Fighting Final Fantasy X Parts 1-13: X Gon' Give It To Ya

Part 1: Oh God, Why Am I Doing This?

I can't... I'm in
I can't... I'm in "too deep" to stop now.

I have a greater personal connection with Final Fantasy X than any of my previous subjects. Final Fantasy X was released around the time I got into video games. While I went down the path of aligning myself towards Nintendo and Microsoft properties; the Final Fantasy franchise was busy carving a massive niche with my friends and schoolmates. Even I recall the release of Final Fantasy X being a big deal. Practically everyone I knew was talking about the game in some capacity. This leads me to one of my darkest video game secrets. This is the first PS2 game I have ever played.

I know that seems ridiculous coming from someone who moderates a video game website but hear me out. For much of my childhood, my family was not financially stable. In terms of video games, I was "stuck" with one console and a game per month. My parents strictly monitored my video game playing and selected Nintendo consoles due to their lower price and family-friendly reputation. For much of my life, my inability to play Final Fantasy games wasn't my choice. Every game I played required the religious stamp of approval from my grandparents or mother. Why I didn't immediately use my adulthood to rectify this inadequacy is a different can of worms, but what comes around goes around.

I would like to go on record in stating Final Fantasy X has the DUMBEST character weapons I have ever seen!
I would like to go on record in stating Final Fantasy X has the DUMBEST character weapons I have ever seen!

Final Fantasy X is the Final Fantasy game I know the most about, and thus the one I secretly wanted to play when I started this series. I know I have told this story before, but it bears repeating. I have seen Final Fantasy X’s ending. When I was in elementary school one of my neighborhood friends was into Final Fantasy to an embarrassing degree. When I told him I had never played a Final Fantasy game, he implored me to spend the night at his house as he endeavored to "re-educate" me. He decided it would be a great idea to force me to watch the last twenty minutes of Final Fantasy X and the first fifteen minutes of Final Fantasy X-2.

What a wonderful way to be introduced to the Final Fantasy franchise.
What a wonderful way to be introduced to the Final Fantasy franchise.

If the prospect of me knowing the ending is throwing you into a tizzy, then relax. I don't remember a GODDAMNED thing about this game. I can barely remember what I ate for dinner, let alone the narrative significance of a purple slug monster. I know more than I would like, but it isn’t getting me anywhere. So without further ado, let's review a few tidbits of "housekeeping!" What do I mean by that? Well, let's discuss which version of the Sphere Grid I elected to use:

Um, excuse me?
Um, excuse me?

Fun fact for those who have not played the PC port of the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, it defaults to Japanese when you boot it up for the first time. The game also runs windowed by default. WHO WOULD EVER DO THIS? I honestly think no one at SquareEnix understands what PC gaming is. No decent human being would do this.

I'm certainly no
I'm certainly no "Expert" in spheres or grids!
Give me every grainy beat with the original soundtrack!
Give me every grainy beat with the original soundtrack!

Part 2: Let's Talk About The Ins And Outs Of The HD Remaster

Before we jump into the "nitty gritty," there's various housekeeping items I feel inclined to mention. It would behoove me to disclose I am playing the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster. As someone who never played the original on the PS2, I lack the ability to discuss the ins and outs of this port job. That said, there are many positives and negatives even a neophyte like myself could identify within the first handful of hours.

And one of you is going to have to help me with this bullshit
And one of you is going to have to help me with this bullshit "extra content."

The most astounding positive in terms of my early impressions of Final Fantasy X would be its spectacular artistic design. The HD Remaster is partly to credit for this. The in-game textures occasionally appear "smoothed" and the character animations often descend into the "Uncanny Valley," but so be the technical limitations of 1999. Almost in spite of these technical limitations, the game evokes an emotional response whenever you embark into a new environment. The pastel and neon-drenched set pieces are breathtaking and being able to trek through these worlds in 1080p is an equally impressive experience. I have found Final Fantasy X to be a visually stunning and impressive game regardless of its age.

The environments look fine. The faces... the less said the better.
The environments look fine. The faces... the less said the better.

Credit must go to the developers and programmers as each location feels eager to please. The set pieces evoke a distinct sense of mood and tone, and each plays a role in establishing a clear sense of "place." The game communicates that we are exploring the skeleton of a nigh dead civilization both in a literal and figurative sense. Characters will provide exposition on the sorry state of humanity, and immediately you are thrown into an environment which reinforces this sentiment. The absence of complex technology in each of the locations adds to the game's mood and tone. It is as if the majesty of video game storytelling is in full effect!

There are a couple nitpicks I wish to mention before we move on. The HD Remaster uses the "International Version" of Final Fantasy X. This is directly responsible for one major annoyance I have with the game’s controls. In prior Final Fantasy PC port jobs, the [X]-key translates to "Confirm" and the [C]-key to "Cancel."

Sounds simple enough, right?
Sounds simple enough, right?

The International Version reverses these keys, and I cannot describe in words how infuriating this is.

I feel like I could burn down England.
I feel like I could burn down England.

I know the rebuttal is something like "But ZombiePie, you can change the keybindings to whatever you like!" This exclamation is correct but ignoring one of the guiding principles of this blog series. I play these games using the default control settings no matter what. I do this to have a better sense of what it would have been like playing these games when they first launched. This dedication is ill-placed, but one of the few things I feel strongly about.

The other major nitpick is technical. A significant amount of time and effort was put into improving the visual look and design of the in-game textures. The cutscenes and pre-rendered environments, on the other hand, were adjusted from a 4:3 to a 16:9 screen ratio. This has led to one major unintended consequence. The cutscenes and pre-rendered environments lack visual and emotional panache. Now that so much of the real-time graphics have improved the CG cutscenes especially feel and look their age. Worse yet, they no longer provide their intended purpose of astounding their audience.

Can we talk about how the CG cutscene version of Tidus looks NOTHING like the in-game version of Tidus? This is driving me INSANE! It's as if this game has three different versions of Tidus!
Can we talk about how the CG cutscene version of Tidus looks NOTHING like the in-game version of Tidus? This is driving me INSANE! It's as if this game has three different versions of Tidus!

Part 3: Let's Talk About The Voice Acting... Because There's A LOT To Talk About

There's one big "elephant in the room" whenever Final Fantasy X is brought up. This problematic topic would be Final Fantasy X's voice acting. Even someone like myself who has avoided playing Final Fantasy X for seventeen plus years knows the game's voice acting is commonly cited as one of its sore points. Over the years in which I have moderated a video game website I have noticed two distinct "camps" regarding Final Fantasy X's voice acting. One camp defends the acting as laying the groundwork for future entries in the series, and the other views the acting to be the worst thing in human existence. Trust me on this, this is definitely NOT a logical fallacy used for comedic purposes.

Come at me, I dare you!
Come at me, I dare you!

My response is far more pragmatic. Final Fantasy X is a product of its time, and the quality of the voice acting is one of the many indicators of this. If you examine the quality of anime voice acting for 80% of what aired on Toonami during the block's original run, you would find Final Fantasy X to be part of the norm. Add in this being Square's first fully voice-acted Final Fantasy game, and a script chock-full of technobabble, and I err towards the viewpoint of this being the best possible outcome. I do not wish to equivocate larger issues which stem from the voice acting. Its inclusion unleashes many unintended consequences, but at the same point, I feel there are bigger dragons to slay in Final Fantasy X.

I do not feel the need to malign any member of the voice cast. I would even hazard to say they did the best they could with what they were given. Anyone capable of even the slightest bit of introspection can look at the script the voice cast were given and immediately discover how insurmountable their job was. Final Fantasy X is guilty of long-winded exposition dumps which hardly lend themselves to emotional pleas or method acting. Likewise, the script is filled to the brim with proper nouns every step of the way. I dare you to say "Sin," "Blitzball," "Zanarkand," and "Yevon" all in the same sentence without your tongue falling off. As a thought experiment, I counted the times Wakka said a proper noun in a two-minute scene. The answer is eleven. It is savage to expect any actor to salvage such an awkward script. As I like to say, you can coat shit in sugar, but it's still shit.

I will concede the voice actors for the NPCs should have been kicked to the curb. They are SOOOOO BAD!
I will concede the voice actors for the NPCs should have been kicked to the curb. They are SOOOOO BAD!

Most of all, the game's cast features some of the most emotionally honest characters I have seen. Understanding the pathos and logos of the cast means that even when the game is at its worst you understand what was intended in any scene. When Tidus screams in frustration after exiting the Kilika Cloister of Trials, the literal execution of that scene is "wanting." However, the scene's honesty and intention are so charmingly clear you can almost forgive the game for its shortcomings. The technical limitations can be ignored so long as the purpose of what is attempted is honest and intelligible. More often than not I feel this is the case.

Rest assured, I find Tidus's voice to be largely intolerable. The way he enunciates and spews witticisms sabotages scenes the game wants you to view as poignant. The supporting cast doesn't fare much better. The acting for the Luca Goers is atrocious. I mean, HOLY SHIT their voices are an abhorrent nightmare! I get they wanted them to be the game's equivalent of the Cobra Kai but give me a fucking break. This highlights the biggest issue with the voice acting. When the stars are not entirely aligned the voice acting can cause entire scenes to shatter before your eyes. Worst of all, this is a monumental problem the game cannot entirely shake away. Like a looming Sword of Damocles, the voice acting can viciously assassinate entire scenes without warning.

These guys look and sound like crap so it is a double whammy!
These guys look and sound like crap so it is a double whammy!

There's one more talking point I would like to bring up before jumping into the story. Since announcing I would cover Final Fantasy X, I have since received four or five PMs, Twitter DMs, and/or Tumblr messages sending me links to the Tidus laughing scene. Please stop doing this. I get it. That scene is a weird fucking thing. I need not watch ANOTHER video to understand this. Please, I am begging you to stop.

Part 4: First Impressions Are Everything, And Final Fantasy X Starts Strong

I have nothing negative to say about the first scene in Final Fantasy X. The game's initial moments in Zanarkand are fucking awesome! The neon metropolis of Zanarkand is full of life and establishes an eclectic world you want to explore. Yes, the NPCs are terrible, but they serve their purpose in establishing a sense of vibrancy. The lead up to the massive Blitzball match works because it endeavors to craft a distinct sense of place. Zanarkand is a futuristic world with particular rules and customs. We are living in a world at its peak.

The story the sports commentator tells on the radio is oddly compelling. I am surprised I didn't hate it.
The story the sports commentator tells on the radio is oddly compelling. I am surprised I didn't hate it.

The visual presentation of Zanarkand is a master stroke in video game storytelling. As ridiculous as it sounds I do not hate the presentation behind Blitzball. Playing it is an abhorrent shitshow, but at least it looks good during the game's cutscenes. The sport also serves as a great segue to Sin's attack on Zanarkand as it allows the game to flow with a lively pace. The first two set pieces each center on Tidus desperately attempting to survive dire circumstances, and they work magnificently. Both set pieces culminate in confrontations with monstrous creatures that are above your skill level. They also develop a sense of increasing stakes as the story progresses. The music that plays during this sequence, on the other hand, is FUCKING TERRIBLE! WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK IS THIS? THERE’S NOTHING ELSE ON THE SOUNDTRACK THAT SOUNDS LIKE THIS! IT IS AN ASSAULT ON YOUR EARS!

This inevitably leads me to one of my favorite aspects of Final Fantasy X. This is a game eager to please its audience. Final Fantasy X is an exercise in technical excellence as it pushes the boundaries of what was possible in 1999. The battles are snappy and energetic, and the backgrounds are visually delightful. I especially appreciated the game using dynamic camera angles during battles. Whenever you perform even the simplest attack, the game makes it an excitable character moment. These small touches all work wonders in crafting a unique feel to Final Fantasy X. We have seen futuristic cities in past Final Fantasy games, but not with this sense of scale or gravitas.

Don't you love it when Japan tries to outdo Blade Runner?
Don't you love it when Japan tries to outdo Blade Runner?

In terms of storytelling, the game lays the groundwork for its protagonist within minutes. Tidus is a headstrong free spirit who thinks highly of himself. He’s also a social butterfly who seeks group interactions and fame wherever he goes. The game develops a darker subtext to Tidus when Jecht is brought up as Tidus tags along with Auron. The game does well to establish a sense of "mystery," without revealing too much too soon. Less is always more for introductions especially when we need to pay attention to the story and new mechanics.

I'm not joking... this is the only time i enjoyed Blitzball.
I'm not joking... this is the only time i enjoyed Blitzball.

Speaking of which, Zanarkand is a great tutorial level. Credit goes to the developers for ensuring the first two boss battles cannot wipe you out. They instead provide visual variety to the chaotic situation Tidus has been thrust into. I also think it was smart to split up the editorializing into chunks. Zanarkand tutorials the main combat mechanics, and other levels address different ones. This prevents the player from experiencing information overload and lowers the risk of total failure for the sake of allowing them to enjoy a spectacle... well at least in theory it does.

Part 5: I CONTINUE TO BE TERRIBLE AT PLAYING JRPGs!

I sure have not learned from the last three Final Fantasy games.
I sure have not learned from the last three Final Fantasy games.

I honestly have no one to blame but myself. In what can only be described to be my greatest "accomplishment" in a Final Fantasy game yet, I somehow died in Final Fantasy X's first location. I am amazed this is not an achievement given how "fool proof" Zanarkand is. Not knowing the blue hovering spheres were save points I idiotically blasted through the first level without healing my party. This was a dumb thing to do. My idiocy in playing Final Fantasy X does not stop at the combat. It wasn't until I reached Luca that I realized the game had equipable items. Then there was the time I moved Yuna backward on the Sphere Grid. I initially thought you were supposed to move TOWARDS the glowing orbs instead of away from them.

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!
FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!

I have never claimed to be the best at playing video games, but this is disgraceful even for me. Final Fantasy X isn't that difficult of a game to wrap your mind around. The turn-based combat is a massive refinement from Final Fantasy IX, and the turns are far more explicit. The order of attacks is provided in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, and this order can be manipulated via status effects or character death. The biggest improvement from Final Fantasy IX to Final Fantasy X is the inclusion of “wait time.” In Final Fantasy X, you can wait on attacks for as long as you’d like. Allowing for an infinite amount of wait time means I can fully revel in my affliction of "analysis paralysis." On a more literal level, the combat in Final Fantasy X is relatively straightforward, and yet somehow I still fucked it up.

It was! Those fucking Sinscales!
It was! Those fucking Sinscales!

If there is one thing I refuse to take flak over its performing the Overdrives in Final Fantasy X. After selecting a character's Overdrive you are prompted the name of the finishing maneuver and immediately thrust into a character distinct minigame. There's no pomp or circumstance in using your first Overdrive, and the lack of a practicing mechanic all but guarantees the first use of any Overdrive will whiff massively. I found the interface for Trigger Commands and Overdrives to be cumbersome and the prompts for both too nondescript given their importance.

I heard Tidus likes to
I heard Tidus likes to "play with his sword!"

Another dick move is when there is a tutorial for equipment. The game equips items for Tidus to show you the ins and outs of the system. If you go back and re-examine Tidus, you will notice the changes from the tutorial weren't real, and he’s been stuck swinging around dog shit for the last hour. This is the THIRD TIME a Final Fantasy game has done this, and it NEEDS TO STOP! This is the worst way to tutorial any mechanic, and it is slowly driving me insane.

Part 6: Establishing A Sense Of Mystery Using Gameplay And Story

There's no going about it. It is time to delve into the organized chaos that is Final Fantasy X's story. As mentioned earlier, Final Fantasy X does a spectacular job in using its first handful of set pieces to set up the mood and tone of the game. Likewise, the script is replete with proper nouns which cause the dialogue to come across as unintelligible technobabble to first timers. To call the introduction a “mixed bag” would do it a disservice. As is par for the course, Final Fantasy X's initial moments work better when you tune off the logic centers of your brain and appreciate the spectacle for what it is.

And Auron is a total BADASS! What more is there to say about Zanarkand?
And Auron is a total BADASS! What more is there to say about Zanarkand?

A mysterious gentleman named Auron brings Tidus up to speed regarding the ensuing destruction to befall Zanarkand. A massive monstrosity named "Sin" has somehow lumbered into Zanarkand with no one noticing it. This right here is a wonderful example of the "Godzilla Conundrum." We have a massive monster of epic proportions, and yet somehow it can ninja its way into every scene significant to the protagonist. It's a fucking twenty-story tall monster that creates a massive tsunami whenever it surfaces! How is NO ONE able to notice its arrival? You mean to tell me the technologically advanced society of Zanarkand lacks ANY system to track this behemoth? This problem applies to Sin for the rest of the game mind you, and it's a major reason monster movies rarely "work" for me.

At least when Sin starts wrecking shit it looks awesome.
At least when Sin starts wrecking shit it looks awesome.

Our intrepid Blitzball player is thrust into action, but not before a hooded child and Auron suggests there are greater forces at work. I want to share a personal “fan theory” I have developed. I'm sure this introductory scene is a dream sequence and isn't real. So much of Tidus's introduction comes across as pandering to his ego, so I honestly think we are in his “dream life.” I will even hazard a guess and predict Auron is tasked by another force to rip Tidus from his blue-pill induced state. It is a stupid theory, but a stupid theory just dumb enough for a Final Fantasy game.

Either way, Final Fantasy X does a phenomenal job in crafting a sense of foreboding. The juxtapositions and cutscenes work to establish a feeling of unease you can appreciate from a distant vantage point; even if that vantage point is from the moon. After Auron tosses Tidus into the anus looking portal the game continues its snappy pacing. Just as you think you are out of the woods new confrontations continue to establish a sense of increasing "stakes." For those of you following this story using Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” Auron is the “Supernatural Aid” which allows Tidus to meet the “Threshold Guardians.”

You knew I would bring this shit up again!
You knew I would bring this shit up again!
See? I didn’t make that shit up!
See? I didn’t make that shit up!

The stakes at the temple are lower on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but they do the story wonders. A simple quest to build a fire can articulate how far the character has fallen from their perch. Yes, Tidus spends 90% of the scene whining like a toddler, but again the emotional honesty saves it. Tidus isn't meant to be a likable protagonist when we first meet him. He's meant to be an egotistical and self-servicing prick. Eventually, he will be humbled, but right now he's still refusing to accept the “call to adventure.” Poignant scenes where Tidus is forced to confront his humanity don't work unless there's a point of reference. This hindsight is something I can thank Final Fantasy IX for.

HEY! I'm the one who should be making questionable metaphors for comedic purposes!
HEY! I'm the one who should be making questionable metaphors for comedic purposes!

The scene after Zanarkand does well to showcase how Tidus needs his compatriots. He is our proverbial "fish out of water" character. Tidus is ill-equipped to survive the new world he is in, but how Tidus goes about expressing this role is a soul-wrenching annoyance. I mean for fuck's sake, when is Tidus going to develop some much needed social skills? Every time Tidus asks questions about Sin, summoners, or Yevon... I want to die. I JUST WANT TO DIE! The acting here results in stiff line reading, and their forced nature is cringe inducing. Worse yet is when Rikku tells Tidus not to bring up the subject of Zanarkand with the people he meets... AND HE KEEPS MENTIONING HE'S FROM ZANARKAND!

WE WILL COME BACK TO THIS ISSUE!
WE WILL COME BACK TO THIS ISSUE!

Part 7: The Dream Sequences Are A Flaming Pile Of Trash

After offing a massive fish monster Tidus kindles a fire and falls asleep in the temple. Tidus enters a sketchy looking temple full of baddies, and his first thought is to get some rest. What a wonderful example of human intellect.

I need a new hobby! Let's trade maladies!
I need a new hobby! Let's trade maladies!

Upon falling asleep Tidus subjects the audience to a dream sequence. We need to talk about these. Tidus's dream sequences ARE ATROCIOUS. HOLY SHIT, THEY ARE FUCKING TERRIBLE! Each sequence "attempts" to convey Tidus's id, ego, and super-ego because psychoanalytical psychology is the ONLY psychology represented in video games. Unfortunately, the appalling script results in the stiffest line reading in the game, and the technical limitations entirely ruin the scenes' intent. Take for example this scene:

He's a family friend who has known you since you were a child! Why are you acting like an asshole to Auron!
He's a family friend who has known you since you were a child! Why are you acting like an asshole to Auron!

The dream sequences partially assist in building Tidus as a character. For one, Tidus is seen in an emotionally vulnerable state. He has some "daddy issues," and his previous vanity feels like a call for help. But this is narrative “low hanging fruit.” How many times are we going to have Final Fantasy protagonists be abandoned or orphans? Everything feels so stunningly superficial that it is honestly painful to watch.

Uh, what the fuck am supposed to get out of this scene?
Uh, what the fuck am supposed to get out of this scene?

There's an insufficient sense of progression with Tidus's dream sequences. Each furthers why he hates his father with little ambiguity provided. I cannot help but think other gaps in Tidus’s character arc would have been better served here. How about discovering how Tidus became a Blitzball player or his relationship with his mother? It's just scene after scene of Tidus trying to be happy, and then his father being a dick to him. The game is bludgeoning you over the head with its simplicity.

Part 8: The Fan Service Makes Me Want To Puke

Maybe you shouldn't have taken a nap in a temple populated by monsters. Just an idea.
Maybe you shouldn't have taken a nap in a temple populated by monsters. Just an idea.

After Tidus wakes from his convenient slumber, he is chucked into a battle against a horrible monster. Luckily for all involved, a team of masked bandits arrives to Tidus’s rescue. The lone female member of the masked team joins Tidus in his fight. Our new party member has the "Special" ability to throw grenades, and this is FUCKING COOL! Equally badass is how our new party member is the deciding factor in our victory against the monster. However, the game designers then fuck up a perfectly fine introduction by including bullshit fan service.

Uh, what the fuck?
Uh, what the fuck?
Oh, they fucking
Oh, they fucking "knew" what they were doing.

This is decidedly NOT COOL! Ostensibly our introduction to Rikku devolves into fan service. Does the game introduce Wakka with a camera pan hovering over his junk? Hell no, and the contemptible practice of emphasizing certain parts of the female figure is a recurring issue. Here I am trying to process the news of Tidus being thrown 1,000 years into the future, and inexplicably the camera pans to Rikku's ass. Like honestly, what the fuck is happening?

Not cool game, not cool.
Not cool game, not cool.

My main quibble is how there is important information to process whenever we talk to Rikku, and this is a distraction. Given she saved Tidus's life I wanted to learn more about Rikku. However, the game's sense of narrative triage places the inclusion of an ass-shot above positive social interactions. Given that fan service defined two whole scenes with Rikku, I have developed a sense of dread regarding future interactions with our female party members.

Think I am joking? How about we discuss what happens when Lulu gets the finishing blow in a battle? Lulu bends over, ever so prominently, and you can see her cleavage. Rikku's ass-shot is one scene, but Lulu's fan service continues for the entire goddamned game. It's the pits. It's the drizzly shits of Final Fantasy X.

Fuck this, fuck life.
Fuck this, fuck life.

Rikku’s fan service is a damn shame. It was a hair away from ruining the introduction of the Al Bhed. The dress, language, and culture of the Al Bhed is interesting in concept. The mannerisms used by Rikku's party members are touchingly done. The Al Bhed have no intention of hurting Tidus, and you slowly develop the sense they wish to help him. Unfortunately, the game's priorities are decidedly fucked.

Part 9: OH GOD THE SPHERE GRID!

When the nauseating fan service has subsided Tidus finds himself aboard a ship. Unable to speak the language of the Al Bhed, Tidus increasingly gravitates towards Rikku who can speak his language. Whilst aboard the Al Bhed ship they request his help in exploring an undersea platform. It is at this point the game introduces the "Sphere Grid."

Jesus Christ, what am I even looking at?
Jesus Christ, what am I even looking at?

If there is one aspect of this game which causes me to wake up in a cold sweat, it would be the Sphere Grid. This byzantine monstrosity is more complicated than it has any right to be. Admittedly, the game's heart is in the right place, but a child who makes a grilled crayon and thumbtack sandwich should be told to try again. To the Sphere Grid's credit, most of the pathways are straightforward for the first dozen of levels. The branches and dead-ends do not rear their ugly head until much later in the game.

WAIT! I barely understood the normal features of the Sphere Grid!
WAIT! I barely understood the normal features of the Sphere Grid!

Equal credit goes to the developers for attempting to provide the player with the opportunity to customize the characters to their liking. I'm only five hours into the game, but I have been told the Sphere Grid can result in noticeable changes in how characters play in combat. Personally, I find this to be an appreciated change of the "Tabula Rasa" direction of Final Fantasy VII and VIII. The Sphere Grid also motivates you to take advantage of every party member. While every player has their favorite character(s), I feel a sense of satisfaction in progressing and developing each character as relative equals. If a system results in greater buy-in by the player, then it can't be entirely horrible, right?

Well, we're ignoring the obvious. Navigating the Sphere Grid is a chore, and the consequences of moving a character down its many branches are not articulated to the player. In theory, moving one character makes them similar to the character they are moving towards. But what this results in is up to the player to discover AFTER they have selected a direction. I'm moving Tidus towards an unoccupied sphere and do not understand what this means because the branches themselves are neither color coded nor labeled as being distinct from one another. Am I making Tidus a physical attack powerhouse or a minister of time-bending magic? Lacking a point of reference also hurts the system and my desire to experiment with it.

I'm not ready... someone please help me!
I'm not ready... someone please help me!

I need to ask a burning question about the Sphere Grid. Why isn't the Sphere Grid an individualized tech tree? If you want to have branching paths then why not have the paths result in distinct character classes like every other action role-playing game? What the Sphere Grid expects out of the player isn't communicated at all. Neither are the possible endpoints or destinations. Here the game mentions they exist and asks you to forget about them for the next four hours. To say the tutorial for the Sphere Grid is “inadequate” would be a gargantuan understatement. The Sphere Grid is indisputably intimidating to newcomers, and the game subjects you to “trial by fire” after introducing it.

Part 10: Slow And Steady Wins The Race

I have gravitated towards Final Fantasy X’s story more than I expected. The story initially revolves around Tidus’s desire to return to his past. With each location, we learn more about Tidus's upbringing and the world of Spira. There's a simple, but effective flow to the game which adds to its whimsy. Tidus's ego driven nature results in him constantly trying to assert his prior fame. The dialogue here is cringe-inducing, but it's another case of the game's honesty carrying you through its limitations.

I can't help but root for Final Fantasy X when it honestly tries to make its story work.
I can't help but root for Final Fantasy X when it honestly tries to make its story work.

When we join Rikku in exploring an underwater facility, it is a journey not only for Tidus, but for us. As much as I would like to deny it, Tidus is my vessel in understanding more about the world of Spira. In that regard, Tidus serves his role with distinction. Admittedly the game’s use of Tidus as a “fish out of water” isn’t entirely successful. The narrative tries to justify Tidus's awkward questioning by claiming Sin can “poison” people’s memories. Unfortunately, this justification does not stop many of Tidus’s introductions from devolving into schlock.

He's just dumb, didn't you learn that fifteen minutes ago?
He's just dumb, didn't you learn that fifteen minutes ago?

As Rikku and Tidus beat the ever loving crap out of an octopus, they power up the underwater facility. Upon returning to the surface the two have a simple aside. Rikku reveals her name and brings Tidus up to speed. Zanarkand has been in ruins since a thousand years ago, and Sin's activities have all but ruined modern civilization. It is an honest to goodness well-done scene where the emotional core of the moment supersedes everything else. Tidus lets his guard down, and our sympathy builds for him. Moreso, there's a genuine sense of caring by Rikku.

After dealing with his superficial posturings for what seemed like an eternity, Tidus showcases a more emotionally vulnerable side. By allowing Tidus the opportunity to exhibit a breadth of emotions he feels more “real” than his predecessors. What takes other Final Fantasy protagonists two discs to achieve, Tidus has accomplished in one hour. There is a consequence to Tidus being painted with a potpourri of affections. The game jumps between disparate emotional states in the same scene. The narrative dissonance this results in is undeniable. In one scene we can witness Tidus cracking a joke, fawning over Yuna, having a heart-to-heart with Wakka, and becoming emotionally torn between two worlds. Then there’s Tidus’s voice actor… his inflections are ALL OVER THE PLACE! Entire scenes are torn from their foundation because Tidus always sounds like a sarcastic sack of shit.

Is Tidus going to learn how to lie, or am I going to have to listen to him sounding like a goober the entire game?
Is Tidus going to learn how to lie, or am I going to have to listen to him sounding like a goober the entire game?

Moments like these show what Final Fantasy X's characters can bring to the table. They are still caricatures, there's no denying that, but there's a resolute sense of honesty whenever they interact. These interactions are simple to understand and work to build our sympathy for the cast. They are rarely intellectually challenging, but this is a game trying to put its best step forward before it sinks in its tendrils. Until then we have a story grounded with a small compact cast of believable characters. What more can you ask for out of a Final Fantasy game?

What I'm saying is: I cannot wait for Final Fantasy X to fuck up this grounded and character-driven narrative with some bullshit science fiction plot twist. Let me guess. Tidus is going to have an existential crisis where he is forced to confront his personal identity! Then Yuna pulls him back into reality. Oh boy… I am waiting with bated breath.

Or maybe Blitzball is the answer to everything!
Or maybe Blitzball is the answer to everything!

Part 11: Wakka Is A Rollercoaster Of A Character

After further discussions, Rikku pounces on the news that Tidus is a Blitzball player. She resolves to take Tidus to the city of Luca as the sport is played there. Rikku eventually reveals Zanarkand to be a "holy site," and Tidus shouldn't bring up the subject of the city when interacting with other people. It's another scene where Rikku expresses a sense of concern regarding Tidus's well-being. If only Tidus did well to honor this sense of caring.

LIKE SERIOUSLY, WHY DOESN'T TIDUS LISTEN TO THIS ADVICE?!
LIKE SERIOUSLY, WHY DOESN'T TIDUS LISTEN TO THIS ADVICE?!

Just as Rikku developed her "master plan," Sin arrives and attacks the ocean platform. I guess Sin has a natural attraction to Tidus otherwise Sin's appearances are terribly convenient. Tidus is knocked off the platform and somehow drifts to an island populated by characters critical to the progression of the plot. As Tidus washes onto the shores of Besaid, a Blitzball bumps against his face.

This boy does not understand what it means to maintain a
This boy does not understand what it means to maintain a "low profile."

I like Wakka as a character. He's your usual bumbling buffoon that seems typical in these sorts of games. Unlike comic-relief characters in prior Final Fantasy games, Wakka has some much-needed depth. He's the captain of a failing blitzball team, and a religious zealot. Wakka holds his religious beliefs near and dear to his heart and they are a defining aspect of his character. His brimming enthusiasm is complementary to his desire to honor his religion. Eventually, we discover a darker subtext to Wakka when we learn more about his dead brother. I want to express how relieved I am to have a comic relief character that has a genuine story arc!

Wakka's multi-faceted nature highlights another aspect of Final Fantasy X I have enjoyed. The main characters have avoided feeling one-note, and much like Spira feel distinct from previous entries in the franchise. Better yet, each of the supporting characters has a social network of friends even before Tidus arrives. For once we see a supporting cast pursue interpersonal relationships beyond the protagonist. Watching Lulu privately confide to Wakka about current events is one example of the game doing its darndest to create a sense of community amidst the ruins of Spira. It is both an inspiring and touching undertone.

If this was Tidus's plan, why does he spend the rest of the game running away from Sin?
If this was Tidus's plan, why does he spend the rest of the game running away from Sin?

As my title suggests, Wakka is a bewildering rollercoaster ride of emotions. Sometimes Wakka is a comic relief character for the sake of humor. Other times he can level with Tidus in a brotherly manner. How about Wakka's voice? Here I was thinking Tidus somehow found his way into post-Apocalyptic Hawaii. Instead, we have another Final Fantasy game with a character featuring a distinct manner of speaking no one else seems to use.

It's the
It's the "Barret Conundrum" all over again.

There is one quibble I would like to mention before discussing the hidden depth behind Besaid. The brush strokes that crafted the HD Remaster are careful in some parts and broad in others. This point is made all the more obvious when we examine supporting NPCs next to the primary cast. Important characters including Wakka and Tidus have an extra resolution when compared to the rest of the game. Hopefully, this screencap will help cement this point:

What a weird fucking thing sometimes.
What a weird fucking thing sometimes.

Part 12: Final Fantasy X's Creative Use Of Religion And Sport

Exploring Besaid is a visual treat. We arrive in the village via swimming through some of the most pristine waters you could ever imagine. As we enter the village proper, we have a better sense of how far civilization has regressed.

At least there's plenty of
At least there's plenty of "visual variety" to Final Fantasy X's apocalypse.

There is something compelling about witnessing the cataclysm which destroyed a civilization and watching the remnants try to live idly by in the ruins. More often than not, players take control of characters from the perspective of archaeologists or post-apocalyptic survivors. Witnessing every step of the rise, fall, and resurrection of a civilization is fascinating. The totality of Sin’s destruction is another compelling aspect of Final Fantasy X. The visuals hit home the dire situation humanity is in.

While Spira lacks the technological supremacy of its past, it has maintained two bedrocks: Blitzball and religion. Blitzball is an odd commentary on sports culture, and its deadening effects on all who subscribe to it. While not everyone is a Blitzball player, everyone subscribes to enjoying the sport as a panacea to their otherworldly problems. While the threat of Sin is looming the people of Spira are more than willing to disclose the Blitzball team they root for. The sport has filled a massive void and drives many like Wakka to the point of obsession. I would even conjecture Blitzball is a clever cautionary tale against the ills of consumer culture. Everyone fawns over Blitzball players more than their political leaders.

I wonder what Blitzball hooliganism looks like.
I wonder what Blitzball hooliganism looks like.

The game's depiction of religion is equally interesting. The practices and customs of the game’s religion have a distinct "folk" feel to them. Tidus at one point shares how the prayer of the religion has appropriated a victory signal from Blitzball. Religion has united hundreds if not thousands of people in a fight against Sin. The comparisons to established religion honestly write themselves. While the threat of Sin is a physical and tangible threat, masses of people turn to religious institutions to solve their problems. The citizenry follows the orders of a governing force which uses a religious mandate to direct them in an unwinnable war.

You are doing a
You are doing a "GREAT" job by the way!

Both elements are oddly specific, but they further underscore the unique nature of Final Fantasy X. While Final Fantasy VII set its target on environmentalism and personal identity; Final Fantasy X sets its target on something a few pegs lower. Not that one game is superior or inferior to the other. Instead, I would like to commend the writers of Final Fantasy X for picking a simple and easy to hit target like sports culture. This assists them in crafting an "accurate" story with an excitable pace. Final Fantasy X has avoided repeating the follies of Icarus as its targets are only a few feet above its head.

Part 13: The "Law Of Averageness" In Storytelling

This inevitably leads me to my final note for this episode. Final Fantasy X's first hours are a highly rewarding experience thanks to workmen-like writing. While Final Fantasy X does not set itself up to slay any large dragons, it crafts a provocative world with mostly relatable characters. There are plenty of bumps and bruises to be had here, but I have to admit the game's infectious enthusiasm is rubbing on me. For once, I'm playing a Final Fantasy game which squeezes a smile out of me from time to time.

In my many attempts to discover why this is the case, I gravitated towards an old storytelling theorem I once postulated. Sometimes it is better to play it safe rather than risk a swing and potentially miss. Much of the game is spent introducing the world of Spira in a nonconfrontational manner. The characters are the glue to this, and they use most of their dialogue to please your neural synapses. Final Fantasy X is a dopamine inducing travelogue like a summer blockbuster.

It wouldn't be a true Final Fantasy without shitty puzzle sequences!
It wouldn't be a true Final Fantasy without shitty puzzle sequences!
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Fighting Final Fantasy IX Part 115-137: WHELP... That's One Way To End A Story.

Part 115: And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

Let's square away something important which I believe will frame this blog in a different light. I played the final disc of Final Fantasy IX in the worst possible way. The manner in which I completed this game is inadvisable to any reasonable human being. Many of you may be wondering what I did to warrant this disclaimer. What if I told you I completed eleven of the game’s side quests and the entirety of disc four in one sitting? What would you say now?

I regret my life choices.
I regret my life choices.

This leads me to one of my greatest regrets. I feel as if I sabotaged my ability to enjoy Final Fantasy IX's concluding moments. The failure here is without a doubt my own, but I cannot shake away the sense of wallowing I felt in my last moments with Final Fantasy IX. Then again, is this entirely my fault? I feel Final Fantasy IX did not uphold its end of the bargain in providing an “entertaining” video game experience.

Let's be honest adults now. The side quests in the PlayStation One Final Fantasy games are trash. They are glorified fetch quests you only complete because they are there. Every side quest is set up in a laughably contrived manner where a character needs an item of questionable importance. The mechanics of these side quests purposefully repulse any decent player who values their time. I am three games deep in this franchise and it's the same old shit. “Person A” requires “Item B,” and you are left to your own devices to parse out how to accomplish this task.

For once I agree with the game!
For once I agree with the game!

We can debate whether Chocobo Hot and Cold is superior or not to Chocobo Racing; the real point is how both are colossal wastes of your time. There is something to be said about side quests which mechanically "break" their respective games. But yet again is this payoff worth it? What does one gain out of repeating an inane task other than a growing sense of dread? What justification can be provided to defend the dark torment of pain known only as "Tetra Master?"

Before you ask, I did indeed try to defeat Ozma. He cast Meteor TWICE IN A ROW! I died so fast I didn't capture a screenshot.
Before you ask, I did indeed try to defeat Ozma. He cast Meteor TWICE IN A ROW! I died so fast I didn't capture a screenshot.

Part 116: When The Final Leg Is The Best One

I have mentioned my elation at having an antagonist with an established conceit. As we ferry our characters towards the story's denouement it is a welcomed change of pace to follow the game's final plodding steps for once. Kuja's fall from his pedestal was clearly broadcast to the audience. Upon facing the reality of his mortality, Kuja unleashes his wrath to all which surrounds him. Having razed Terra, our party unites once more as they recognize Gaia as Kuja's next logical target.

He's planning to destroy Gaia. Have you NOT been paying attention to the story?
He's planning to destroy Gaia. Have you NOT been paying attention to the story?

As the party marvels at the plentitude of mist across Gaia, the pending cataclysm we are about to face makes itself nakedly apparent. The game juxtaposes to a sentimental moment involving the Genomes being dropped off at the Black Mage Village. Our motley crew rescued as many of the Genomes as possible, and Zidane surmised the village was a logical location to place them. The pairing is choate for several reasons.

They made a funny in my JRPG!
They made a funny in my JRPG!

Unquestionably, the humor at the village is incredibly "forced." Most of the scenes play up both races being perennial "fishes out of water" in the world of Gaia. That aside, the game's heart is in the right place, so I am hard-pressed to fault it for trying. The interactions between the Black Mages and Genomes highlight an interesting symbiotic relationship. Rather than depicting the Black Mages as teachers and the Genomes students, it becomes apparent they can learn from each other. This Socratic alliance underscores our need to be victorious in our battle against Kuja as it is another aspect of Gaia we feel motivated to protect. Then Garnet decides to be a moron.

How do you know that? Did you read the script?
How do you know that? Did you read the script?

Are world leaders in Final Fantasy IX incapable of concealing information to their citizenry? What is the harm in having a private summit with Cid, and asking him to spare a contingent of his elite guards? It's not like we haven’t already done this! What about Beatrix? Why isn’t Garnet interested in getting an update on the city she has sworn to protect? What’s so wrong in asking for Beatrix’s advice? And because the story decides to become boilerplate schlock, Mikoto attempts to warn the party of the futility of their efforts:

Yeah yeah, the villain has an indescribable amount of power no normal human being could imagine having.
Yeah yeah, the villain has an indescribable amount of power no normal human being could imagine having.

After Zidane rebukes his sister's cynicism, our cast heads out to begin their final journey. It is at this point I committed Final Fantasy IX-based seppuku.

Part 117: HOLY SHIT CHOCOBO HOT AND COLD IS THE FUCKING WORST!

Before we delve into the nitty gritty of my side quest induced madness, can we discuss the airship Invincible? Who at Square thought the final airship in the game should control like a drunken beluga whale? Admittedly, the control layout for the Invincible avoids being a gnarled mess, but why is it inferior to our previous vehicles? This blue hunk of shit moves at a snail's pace and turning the monstrosity feels no better than swimming in a vat of molasses.

This is all small stuff when compared to the shit show we are about to talk about. I honestly wish the Invincible was my only contrivance on disc four. Instead, thatpinguino thought it would be a "wonderful" idea if I were to complete the entire Chocobo side quest. I honestly have to question why I have willingly lost control of my life.

I can get cards by completing this minigame? COUNT ME IN!
I can get cards by completing this minigame? COUNT ME IN!

WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT?! Why does this keep happening? Who keeps telling Square to include these bullshit minigames? Chocobo Hot and Cold is fucking hot garbage! It's a terrible clicker game you could realistically download for free on Steam. What drives me insane is how it continually insults your patience every step of the way. GOOD GOD, I feel like my lungs are collapsing. I feel like I have aged twenty-five years just talking about this.

The set-up is simple enough. At one point Zidane needed to commandeer a Chocobo as part of the main questline. On that note, it made sense to include a side quest which used the Chocobo further. It's ultimately how you use our Chocobo friend, Choco, which haunts me every time I wake from my slumber to prepare for the soul-crushing reality I call "Life." The Chocographs… they haunt my every waking moment. There is no release. This is the end.

This is the end. This is the end. This is the end. This is the end. This is the end. This is the end. This is the end. This is the end.
This is the end. This is the end. This is the end. This is the end. This is the end. This is the end. This is the end. This is the end.

Across four locations are buried goodies which you can dig up using Choco. At each of these locations are treasure maps the game calls "Chocographs," and these graphs further the Chocobo questline. Sounds simple enough, right? What if I told you the game hides these graphs underneath a soul-crushing drop rate?

Part 118: I HATE LIFE ITSELF! PLEASE MAKE THIS STOP!

There's a second location to dig up shit? JUST SHOOT ME!
There's a second location to dig up shit? JUST SHOOT ME!

This wretched minigame insists on placing roadblocks as you play it. Instead of having a fixed number of treasure map placements, the game hides them beneath a random number generator. To add insult to injury, the maps aimlessly ferry us to the far reaches of Gaia. Some would call this world building, but I would call this needless busywork. Few of the locations you explore play a significant role in the story. Are any of the mountain cracks we searched especially critical to the game’s narrative? I think you already know the answer to that question.

Then how about you do this bullshit minigame for me!
Then how about you do this bullshit minigame for me!

If you intend to collect every Chocograph, you will end up wasting hours of your life digging up pointless bullshit. Your only recourse is to get down on your hands and knees and pray to the “Random Die Roll Goddess.” As you pray, you will be told to sacrifice a goat at midnight on the third Thursday of the month. After placing the goat on the pentagram you created using chicken blood, you then will have to smack a large stone across your face. As you fall into a stupor, the Die Roll Goddess will ask what your wish is. When you respond "help me with the Chocobo bullshit in Final Fantasy IX," she will chuckle at you.

"You are the 987th person to summon me for this task," she will tease. Then after waving her magic wand, you'll be able to gain the Chocographs post haste. The only consequence is you will need to name your firstborn child "Sir Roderick Ponce Von Fontlebottom the Magnificent Bastard."

THERE IS A THIRD DIG SPOT? THERE IS NO RELEASE! THIS IS THE END!
THERE IS A THIRD DIG SPOT? THERE IS NO RELEASE! THIS IS THE END!

It is frustrating how you will abide by the game’s rules, and are awarded JACK SHIT! There were times when I dug up the maximum number of items, and none of the items were relevant towards progressing the Chocobo side quest. In one scenario I dug up the maximum number of items TWICE IN A ROW (i.e. sixteen items total), AND NONE OF THE ITEMS WERE TREASURE MAPS! Do you want to know what I got for my worries instead?

  • 4 Gysahl Greens
  • 3 Eye Drops
  • 2 Softs
  • 2 Echo Screens
  • 2 Ores
  • 1 Tent
  • 1 Ether
  • 1 Hi-Potion
  • 1 Elixir
  • 1 Gift of 100 Gil
  • 1 Gift of 5,0000 Gil

I DID EXACTLY WHAT THE GAME WANTED ME TO FOR TEN MINUTES! AND I GOT NOTHING! NOTHING! WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT ABOUT? This is downright unacceptable! This isn't fun! This is a nightmare factory! At no point was I enthralled with the world I was interacting with. Someone please make the pain stop! THERE IS NO RELEASE! THIS IS THE END!

The worst part is what the solution to this nightmare is. Getting better at the process of digging up items just increases the number of times you are subjected to the will of the die-roll goddess. I was so exhausted and demoralized I consulted an online guide related to the Chocobo Hot and Cold side quest. This is what they advised in their guide:

Ultimately, the treasures are randomly placed in every location and the items dug up are random, so it comes down to luck. The best advice is simply to not be discouraged and be willing to play several games with little success without giving up.

I had to... I just had to.
I had to... I just had to.

Part 119: THOSE FUCKING MAPS! WHAT THE FUCK?!

And those treasure maps... what were the designers thinking? There are no riddles to contextualize what you are looking at. You have to examine a blurry mess of pixels and hope you know what you are looking at. It's here the graphical limitations of the game genuinely curtail your ability to perform the tasks you are given. I mean... I MEAN, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! THERE IS NO RELEASE! THIS IS THE END!
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! THERE IS NO RELEASE! THIS IS THE END!

When the game adds in unnecessary complexity, I have to think the designers deliberately put shit in their game only crazy people would take the time to locate. This includes attempting to look for cracks in mountains or flickering sprites in the ocean. The cracks look like simple textures no decent human being would think is obfuscating buried treasures. Especially not when the environmental textures are the WORST LOOKING PART OF THE GAME! Oh, and those flickering ocean sprites which signal dive spots? They are virtually impossible to find without consulting a guide!

What a great way to hide shit in your video game.
What a great way to hide shit in your video game.

The game encourages you to explore the world in a way disingenuous to the main questline. To make matters worse, the technical limitations make this quest a glorified pixel hunt. This removes you from the greater world as you manically attempt to locate cracks and bubbles. Exploring caverns and crevices is never connected with anything pertaining to the main story. Everything feels soulless and empty, and I couldn’t shake the feeling I was subjecting myself to this bullshit for the sake of it.

Part 120: Fat Chocobo Is My Spirit Animal

I think I have groused enough about the digging for treasure part of the Chocobo side quest. Let's now address what the quest itself entails. After uncovering several buried treasures you are transported to a far off dimension called "Chocobo's Dream World." Here a massive Chocobo named "Fat Chocobo" transforms Choco to a different color, thus allowing her to transport you to previously inaccessible locations.

I'm sorry, but what exactly is happening?
I'm sorry, but what exactly is happening?

It is eventually revealed that Choco is destined to return to her fellow Chocobos. As you collect more treasure you find yourself transported to Chocobo’s Paradise, which was some HOT BULLSHIT to get to. Upon entering the "paradise" we witness a utopian society run by Chocobos, with Fat Chocobo as their leader. Here we learn of more treasures to uncover and quests to perform on Gaia. Eventually, Zidane is cast out for not being a Chocobo, but Choco rejects eternal paradise to be with her friends.

I guess Chocobo Hot and Cold is Frog Fractions 0.5. The art design of these moments is so visually bizarre I eventually came around to them. There's nothing else in the world like Chocobo’s Dream World, and I think I'm okay with that... sort of. When you finally enter areas such as the Air Garden and finally Chocobo’s Paradise you want to see more, but there isn't more. There ultimately isn't enough meat to this side quest to feel especially connected with what you see and experience here.

Why can't the entire game take place in Chocobo's Paradise?
Why can't the entire game take place in Chocobo's Paradise?

I get people "love" Chocobos, but everyone deserves better than this. Having to perform inane minigames for the sake of seeing Chocobos feels like a waste of everyone’s time. This brings up a major issue I have with 70% of the side quests in Final Fantasy IX. Shit like the Friendly Monster, Ragtime Mouse, or Kupo Nut questlines adds in interesting elements and dynamics to the story. It's a shame these are hidden beneath mountains of fatuous nonsense. The first time I encountered a friendly monster I honestly wanted to complete the questline. Then I found out how long this would take, and how many random encounters I would have to tolerate to make this possible. I felt as if the game punched me in the gut until my enthusiasm had left my body.

So let me entertain the idea Chocobo Hot and Cold encourages exploration and fosters world building. Fine, but the game does this by subjecting its audience with soul-wrenching time sinks. I would strongly object to ANY GAME obfuscating map exploration as thoroughly as Final Fantasy IX does. We aren't talking about a simple barrier of entry here, this is a goddamned two story brick wall. But do you want to know a tiny personal secret of mine?

I am a Final Fantasy IX side quest CHAMPION!
I am a Final Fantasy IX side quest CHAMPION!

Part 121: The Game Includes One Scene Where Quina Is "Okay"

At least we can discuss a side quest that doesn't leave a horrible aftertaste in my mouth. At the behest of thatpinguino, I eventually made my way to Quan's Dwelling. With Quina and Vivi in tow, I discovered the largely pleasurable scene to be had there. We learn more about Vivi's grandfather, Quan, who also happens to be Quina's teacher.

Who would have guessed the game would finally find a way to make Quina
Who would have guessed the game would finally find a way to make Quina"work!"

On a personal level, the moment provided a grounded and largely sentimental moment for all to enjoy. While Quina continued to be Quina, I found Quina's depiction in the scene to be justified. Quina's food dominated imagination is played up to be her/his greatest attribute. Quina's penchant for seeing potential recipes in everything imaginable is revealed to be a trait not common among her/his race. While the village leader of the Qu's, Quale, endeavored to dismiss Quina, Quan saw something greater.

When you break it down it's almost as if the game had the potential to make Quina interesting. Quina was a creative mind held back due to an authoritarian leader. In many ways, Quina has a narrative bond with Garnet, but the game fails to connect these two dots. Regrettably, this is the only scene wherein we witness this characterization for Quina, and it is entirely optional. There was no prior foreshadowing, nor are there complimentary scenes in the future. After the game suggests a deeper meaning to Quina; Quina immediately goes back to being comic relief.

You can't always get what you want; but if you try sometimes well you might find; you get what you need!
You can't always get what you want; but if you try sometimes well you might find; you get what you need!

Looking back at it I only now realize what was attempted in this brief scene. Quan attempting to teach Vivi and Quina the eternal impression of memories serves as a spectacular foreshadowing of what we witness in Memoria. This leads me to my major quibble with this scene. THIS SHIT SHOULDN'T BE OPTIONAL! Leaving the only major portent of the everlasting nature of memories behind an optional side quest IS FUCKING BULLSHIT! Furthermore, this is one of two scenes where Quina receives character development. Where was my hint this is the location I could develop Quina as a character?

When you stop and think about it... this is incredibly information everyone should know before entering Memoria.
When you stop and think about it... this is incredibly information everyone should know before entering Memoria.

Before you ask, NO, I didn't learn all the Blue Magic spells or catch 100 frogs. I value my time, and this is all I can be bothered to do for Quina.

Part 122: What's In A Name? Apparently A Side Quest!

Jeez Garnet, when did you become such a killjoy?
Jeez Garnet, when did you become such a killjoy?

It's time to learn more about Garnet without her knowing! I found the plot developments surfaced at the Eidolon Wall to be "interesting," and nothing more. It's honestly hard to get enthralled with something the game cannot be bothered to reinforce outside of an optional side quest. I would even go a step further and argue the story missed an opportunity to bring Zidane and Garnet together in an emotionally poignant scene before the story pops-off. But alas, the comfort and ease of writing fanwankery proved too great for the men and women behind Final Fantasy IX.

It bears mentioning how contrived exploring the Eidolon Wall is. First, you need to enter Madain Sari and chase away the mercenary Lani. Following this, you need to exit the village entirely, remove Garnet and Amarant from your party, and re-enter the village and find Lani once more. Then you talk to Lani TWICE because FUCK YOU, NOTHING IN THIS GAME IS AS SIMPLE AS IT SHOULD BE! Lani ends up informing Zidane to check out the Eidolon Wall, and further investigation reveals he should walk clockwise upon entering it. You then need to alternate in walking clockwise and counterclockwise NINE TIMES! So what is this in the name of? You discover Garnet's real name, as well as a heart-wrenching note from her biological father:

Why exactly did I need to run around in circles NINE TIMES in order to see this?
Why exactly did I need to run around in circles NINE TIMES in order to see this?

I found interacting with the supporting murals surrounding the note from Garnet's father far more rewarding. I know this makes me sound like a heartless bastard, but hear me out. With those murals you discover the backstory as to what the Eidolons are, as well as the religious beliefs of the Summoners. You learn of their failure to control Alexander, and other attempts to bring peace to Gaia. What I found especially resonant is how the people on the other continents forgot about the existence of the Summoners. This resulted in the Eidolons becoming legends rather than a fact of life.

Now if only the presentation of this information was interesting.
Now if only the presentation of this information was interesting.

Furthermore, I enjoyed how the game used these summons to build the mythos of its world. Final Fantasy IX weaves what could have been a gameplay mechanic for the sake of it into the backbone of its story. The Eidolons are also a vast improvement over the missteps of previous Final Fantasy games. Final Fantasy VII's use of Materia as a plot element was stunningly inconsistent. Final Fantasy VIII's use of the Guardian Forces was a horrible trash fire of epic proportions. It's comforting to see Final Fantasy IX learn from its predecessors in order to better stand on its own laurels.

There's an equally poignant note from Eiko's grandfather... which you fail to inform Eiko about.
There's an equally poignant note from Eiko's grandfather... which you fail to inform Eiko about.

Ultimately we have another side quest where the game neglects to follow through on an interesting premise. Zidane fails to convey what he learns at the Eidolon Wall to Garnet, and this "kills" the gravitas of our discoveries. While we are able to know Garnet's name, she is not. It's doubly repugnant the game never surfaces the existence of Garnet's biological father to her. How great would a touching aside between Zidane and Garnet have been? The writers went for the "path of least resistance," and thus opted for fan service rather than character building, and that is a damn shame.

Part 123: A Beautiful Mistake And Fighting Mildew

Before we address the inanity an old bozo in Daguerreo roped me into doing, there's a scene I saw in the Black Mage Village which floored me. By pure happenstance, I mistakenly entered the Black Mage Village. There I encountered Mikoto confronting the leader of the village on the pointlessness of burying the dead.

Mikoto ever NOT A BUMMER? Because so far that's the only impression I'm getting out of her.
Mikoto ever NOT A BUMMER? Because so far that's the only impression I'm getting out of her.
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust.
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust.
Well... now I look like an asshole for making fun of the Black Mages earlier.
Well... now I look like an asshole for making fun of the Black Mages earlier.

Once again Final Fantasy IX managed to ignite my metacognition. The words of the village leader ring true to us all. When our family members or friends pass away, we try to honor their legacy, not for their sake, but for ours. There's something resolute and poignant about the leader's words as they come across as a recent discovery on his part. With each interaction, we have watched him become increasingly "human." Watching this transformation over time has been a highly rewarding and touching experience.

It is now time to transition to fruitless drivel in a cave! Daguerreo is another wasted opportunity on the part of Final Fantasy IX. What is the justification for creating this beautiful level and not have it factor into the greater story? We see the collective knowledge and learning of Gaia in one place, but what does this amount to? JACK SHIT THAT’S WHAT!

But hey, at least I got my S-Rank on!
But hey, at least I got my S-Rank on!

Did anyone inform the scholars in Daguerreo placing books next to water is a bad idea? This is beside the point. We have a library which holds within it the entire cultural history of Gaia, and we cannot partake in any of it. There are books lying on the floor and we may not read even a single page. Instead, we dick around with old friends, solve a debate between merchants, and promise to fetch trash for an old octogenarian.

Interacting with a character from Cleyra was a nice touch, but does it really build the mystique of Daguerreo? I would argue it doesn't, and this instead highlights a major issue with the location. If the best story beat a level offers is a reference to the past, then it's not a great level. Daguerreo is no better than Esto Gaza in that regard! We have another level which ends up feeling empty because there's not enough to discover at the location. Instead, I'm stuck picking up bullshit for an old geezer!

Mistakes were made.
Mistakes were made.

Part 124: Why Do I Keep Doing This To Myself

Collecting the Excalibur sword for Steiner was a mistake. I genuinely regret completing this side quest because of how frustrating it was in execution. Much like Chocobo Hot and Cold, collecting Excalibur is sabotaged by the game's design. What should be a simple fetch quest quickly devolves into an exercise of your patience! Yet AGAIN you need to sacrifice another goat to the “Random Die Roll Goddess” to spare yourself from the game's soul-crushing random number generator.

What an incredibly useful and user friendly interface!
What an incredibly useful and user friendly interface!

The inherent flaw this time is anchored to a single source. This source being the auction house in Treno. First, you need to purchase four "special" items from the auction house and resell them to their respective buyers. Because the designers of this game are major assholes, they programmed each of these items to spawn one at a time. To add insult to injury, there is no guarantee any will appear when you enter the auction house. Maybe you get lucky and can purchase all four in one fell swoop. Maybe you end up like me and get stuck trying to get Doga’s Artifact to spawn and end up going through eight auctions before it finally pops up!

Selling these items finally allows for the Magical Fingertip to appear in the auction house. Similar to the artifacts from before, there's no guarantee the Magical Fingertip will show up when you enter the auction house. If the Magical Fingertip finally graces your presence, LORD HAVE MERCY if your cash reserves are low. If you get priced out of an item, you have to go through the song and dance of getting them to spawn again!

I cannot describe in words how high in the air I leaped when this happened.
I cannot describe in words how high in the air I leaped when this happened.

Eventually, I purchased the Magical Fingertip and immediately acquired Excalibur for Steiner. It is a powerful sword, but was it worth my time?

Short Answer: No

Long Answer: FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Part 125: MOGNET KILLED ME SLOWLY!

Completing the Mognet side quest was poor decision making on my part. I knew this would not be fun on account of my struggles in delivering the initial batch of Mognet letters. This leads me to my greatest contrivance with the Mognet side quest: 90% of the Moogle letters MEAN JACK SHIT! To progress the side quest, the game only requires you deliver a half-dozen letters, and everything prior is largely irrelevant. I think we can all agree this is a "dick move" by the designers.

The other source of bullshitery stems from locating the recipients for the final letters. The final recipients are stretched across every possible location. Some are even within troublesome dungeons filled with powerful baddies. One of those recipients is in Qu's Marsh and is only accessible if you remember to include Quina in your party. I didn't know this and was left wandering the swamp aimlessly for fifteen minutes.

FUCK THIS JAZZ!
FUCK THIS JAZZ!

And pray thee, why are you completing this asininity? Because you need to locate hair gel to lubricate the Mognet mail machine on account of some jackass using all the lubricant for his perm. I AM NOT LYING ABOUT THIS! WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK IS EVEN HAPPENING?

I HAVE OFFICIALLY LOST CONTROL OF MY LIFE LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!
I HAVE OFFICIALLY LOST CONTROL OF MY LIFE LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!

So the game tasks us with finding a case of "Superslick," without providing clear indications where this can be found. After some frivolous faffing about I found myself before Ruby who happily provided me with a tin of the substance. The joke here is she has fancy hair and needs oil to keep it all in one place. Can you guess my reward for completing this highly "fulfilling" task? I received a "Protect Ring." It's not like I already had three before starting this side quest.

REPEAT AFTER ME: “ THERE IS NO RELEASE! THIS IS THE END!”
REPEAT AFTER ME: “ THERE IS NO RELEASE! THIS IS THE END!”

I GIVE UP! THIS GAME WINS! THERE IS NOTHING IN MY LIFE WORTH FIGHTING FOR! I AM AN EMPTY SHELL OF A HUMAN BEING! SQUARE IS THE CREATOR OF THIS GAME AND THEY ARE GODS WHICH TAKE ORDERS FROM THE GOD OF THE OLD TESTAMENT! THEY ARE THE CREATOR OF FEAR AND YOUTH! THEY ARE HERE TO REDUCE OUR BONES TO PILLARS OF SALT! THEY WILL THEN USE THIS SALT TO MAKE BREAD! SOMEONE SAVE ME FROM MY TORMENT!

Part 126: The Game's Masterful Attention To Detail

Final Fantasy IX is a tour de force when it comes to its attention to detail. I say this with a heavy heart, and as a self-professed maniac who wishes to become the first person to die as a result of playing Final Fantasy games. The fact the player can exit Memoria at any point to explore the game’s final bookends is a nice touch. Where most games would have placed an arbitrary barrier to impede your curiosity; Final Fantasy IX rewards you for being curious.

The Nero Family questline is a batshit insane prospect I had zero interest in completing. Simultaneously, I found the questline's inclusion to be entirely permissible. I mean, why not? It's the last leg of the game, so why not put in some insane side quest no one would discover unless they were crazy? There's something else I wish to discuss on the final non-story related moments in the game.

Exploring the streets of Lindblum and Alexandria provided me with some of the most rewarding NPC interactions I had in the game. In one instance we reconvene with a clothing-obsessed grandmother we saw on the first disc who now laments her current state to her granddaughter. This occurs in front of the ruins of her home. There is a twinge of hope in their conversation, and it underscores the resilience of the world we are trying to save. The scene also highlights how much the world around us has changed. The young daughter, who before was practically wailing for new clothes, now comforts her grandmother.

None of this was necessary. At no point did the developers need to cover every proverbial base in their game. They could have done what Final Fantasy VIII did, and erase everything in the world to motivate the player to further the story to its logical conclusion. These small and relatively insignificant moments magnificently contextualize our mission and its utmost importance. It's the powerful minds at Square at their best.

Part 127: Let's Talk About How Baddass Second Battle Of The Iifa Tree Is!

THANK FUCKING GOD THIS GAME FIRES ON ALL CYLINDERS WHEN YOU RE-ENTER THE IIFA TREE!
THANK FUCKING GOD THIS GAME FIRES ON ALL CYLINDERS WHEN YOU RE-ENTER THE IIFA TREE!

This scene is badass, and I cannot think of a better way to describe it. The CG cutscene at the Iifa Tree is awe-inspiring and a rara avis compared to rest of the fourth disc. It's a gripping and spellbinding moment where the game’s attempt to create a sweeping set piece works. It does wonders to establish the concept of this being the eleventh hour of the game.

The character dynamics are also largely enjoyable. There's a clear sense of camaraderie between our cast members. Between Cid sharing a genuine concern over Garnet's safety, or Beatrix loudly exclaiming "Your captain is about to enter Valhalla," the game again shows an attention to detail you cannot help but marvel over. Best of all is the dynamic between the main cast. I LOVED the quips between Zidane and Steiner when Beatrix came to their rescue:

Zidane, do you have to be shitty right now?
Zidane, do you have to be shitty right now?
OH SHIT! Steiner you are my hero!
OH SHIT! Steiner you are my hero!

What a captivating way to depict the characters as being a cohesive unit! Even during the game's action set pieces it uses its time to show brotherhood and sisterhood which we believe in and can relate to. Not only does this foster our empathy for the cast, but it also serves to remind us how far we have come. The sweeping nature of the battle is a far cry from our humble beginnings of trying to teach Garnet how to speak like a commoner.

The sequence is also a happy marriage of gameplay and storytelling. We eventually confront an opaque dragon. This dragon would have otherwise leveled our party two discs ago, but we have command of a highly different party now. This means we can fight the Nova Dragon as relative equals. It's the magic of video game storytelling all working together!

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!

Part 128: The Game FUCKS UP Its Momentum!

Thanks for ruining ANOTHER set piece, Garland!
Thanks for ruining ANOTHER set piece, Garland!

Boy howdy does Final Fantasy IX not know how to maintain a great first impression! As we enter a land pulled from a Dali fever dream, Garland speaks to Zidane from beyond the grave. Garland reveals we have entered "Memoria." As stated in the caption above, Memoria is the realm in which the collective memories of Gaia dwell. Okay, this is interesting enough, but why are there a dozen card playing ghosts in Memoria?

Holy ludonarrative dissonance, Batman!
Holy ludonarrative dissonance, Batman!

As Zidane trudges along in Memoria, Garland continues to interrupt his journey. He fills in the gaps of Zidane's memories and eventually hints at a greater machination to the world. The real elephant in the room is how the game drops several pipe bombs in Memoria, and there was no foreshadowing to scaffold these developments. As mentioned earlier, the concept of the eternal nature of memories is obfuscated behind an optional side quest for Quina. FUCKING QUINA of all people!

The result is much of Garland's droning feels empty and cheap. The story pivots come across as naked attempts to shock the audience rather than genuine attempts to grip the audience with a guiding vision. If it had been the latter, then the writers should have put more effort into scaffolding the events of Memoria. Even more disappointing, nothing in Memoria feels especially complimentary to the game's previous pivots or story beats. This repeats a major issue I had with the scenes at Terra. Final Fantasy IX brings too much to the table.

Wow, this Kuja fellow sure sounds like an upstanding fellow who
Wow, this Kuja fellow sure sounds like an upstanding fellow who "deserves" a redemption arc!

Rather than complement one of the game's story linchpins from Terra, the game practically forgets pivots there even happened. Rather than build upon the ideas of soul transfer, cloning, parallel universes, or pre-determinism; the game changes the beat of its drum to dance to a different tune. This adds to the half-baked nature of the story moments in Memoria and adds to my frustration whenever it tries to invert my expectations. I have to question what the ultimate creative vision behind Final Fantasy IX was. There are so many conflicting design and story decisions within the game I honestly do not know what to make of it. Were the enjoyable moments with Vivi a sign of Square's mastery of their craft, or just dumb luck? I don't know if I can answer this question, so I'll leave it to you to decide. I would love to hear your responses.

Part 129: Four Fiends And Some Bullshit About Kuja

I am conflicted regarding the use of the Four Fiends in Memoria. On the one hand, I recognize it is a fun call back to the third disc. On my previous blog, I decried the game for not providing you with the agency to control the other party members as they confronted the other fiends. This moment essentially rectifies that issue. On the other hand, the boss rush in Memoria is overkill. Disregarding the Nova Dragon, there are SEVEN BOSS BATTLES TO BE HAD ON DISC FOUR! Each battle requires a sufficient amount of planning and forethought on the player’s part. Each battle also saps time and resources out of the player as they attempt to witness the game’s final moments.

Don't get me wrong; I can appreciate a good boss rush at the tail end of any game, but seven seems punishing. When you consider a majority of the bosses have abilities which can level your entire party, maybe you can see where I am coming from. For example, Maliris performs a final attack upon defeating it called "Raining Swords," and this does 4,000 damage points to every party member.

I hate playing this game sometimes.
I hate playing this game sometimes.

Battles against the Four Fiends serve as segues to memories from our earlier adventures, and even prior to that. Upon defeating Maliris we discover Kuja started his maniacal quest for world domination ten years ago when he attacked Madain Sari. This act of wanton cruelty was done as part of Kuja’s vain attempt to gain control of Alexander. The game attempts to craft a sense of mystery as Zidane is able to see this memory as if he was there.

Memory, all alone in the moonlight. I can dream of the old days. Life was beautiful then!
Memory, all alone in the moonlight. I can dream of the old days. Life was beautiful then!

The mystery here is interesting on paper, but it is one the game has not earned the right to tell. You want me to believe that as Garnet and Zidane fostered their relationship, the game couldn't have provided ONE SCENE where their paths crossed without them knowing it? If the writers so value the importance of Zidane and Garnet's relationship, then why in the world did they wait until now to reveal this? As the revelation here progresses, I developed an increasing exhausting with the game as its story devolved into "plot by convenience."

I don't understand! And I don't think I ever will!
I don't understand! And I don't think I ever will!

Part 130: Garland Is Just The Worst

The story then becomes a befuddled mess even more than it already was. Garnet and Zidane find themselves next to the ominous red "eye in the sky" which spelled doom for every place Garnet called "home." Upon reaching this point Garland opines the universal nature of memories across all beings. This inadvertently serves as a segue to Garland's explanation of how he planned to merge Terra and Gaia.

We Are the Borg. You Will be Assimilated. Resistance is Futile.
We Are the Borg. You Will be Assimilated. Resistance is Futile.

I feel the game missed an opportunity regarding Garland. A massive amount of our time is spent watching Garland spew expositional diarrhea. When it starts it honestly does not stop. This is a missed opportunity on both a figurative and literal level. The presentation is bland and monotonous as the game subjects us to hours of direct instruction. Sure the visual backdrops in which Garland confronts our party are interesting, but I felt ineffectual about them nonetheless. Everything here furthered a plotline I continually felt was a sore point in the story.

Worse of all, Garland would have greatly benefited from a redemptive or tragic character arc. As Garland drones about the relationship between Terra and Gaia you feel like the game wants you to sympathize with Garland. He was the "caretaker" of a dying civilization, and he failed. Kuja has destroyed everything Garland was pledged to protect, but you wouldn't think that based on Garland's heavy-handed soliloquies.

Someone call Ronco! There has to be a better way!
Someone call Ronco! There has to be a better way!

Rather than depict Garland as a tragic figure of circumstance, the game has Garland become an exposition delivery system. Here is where EVERYTHING related to Terra fails as a story linchpin. Time and time again we are expected to sympathize with the death of Terra and its civilization. The problem is you have NO logical reason to buy into this concept. Every interaction we have had with Terra and Garland has risked the destruction of Gaia. Why in the world would I sympathize with Terra? In the time we spent with Garland at no point did he ever express a sense of anguish with the consequences of his actions. Neither do we witness this anguish here, so honestly what's the deal with spending so much time with Garland and Terra? What am I expected to gain out of all this bullshit exposition?

Just look at how much text is on the screen right now.
Just look at how much text is on the screen right now.

Part 131: So I Guess The Entire Assassin's Creed Franchise Owes A Debt Of Gratitude To Final Fantasy IX

Let's briefly talk about why the last two hours is neither the time nor the place, for a massive plot twist in a game's story. After offing the last member of the "Four Fiends" we quickly find our party in a black abyss of nothingness. Garland chimes in to inform us we are stuck in the primordial beginnings of creation. From this dark chaos spawned all life as we know it.

So rocks and mud have memories and parents?
So rocks and mud have memories and parents?

Garland discloses how memories, like genes, are passed down from one generation to the next. This is the story justification for everyone in our party being able to witness the illusions of Memoria, despite their varying locations. The revelation as to what allows for this universality is the second most disappointing plot twist on disc four. Lo-and-behold, it's a crystal because of fan wankery.

OH WE WILL GET TO THE MOST DISAPPOINTING PLOT TWIST IN A LITTLE BIT!
OH WE WILL GET TO THE MOST DISAPPOINTING PLOT TWIST IN A LITTLE BIT!

Right then... this is some HOT BULLSHIT! Once again, Final Fantasy IX resorts to fan service to make its story work. As we marched through Memoria, Garland clarified that everyone shares a common link in the form of memories. Rather than have the linchpin for this be something foreshadowed in the game, the writers saw fit to use referential material in hope it would resonate with the audience.

Here's an idea Garland, why not negotiate the transplanting of the Genomes onto Gaia instead of advocating for its destruction?
Here's an idea Garland, why not negotiate the transplanting of the Genomes onto Gaia instead of advocating for its destruction?

As you can logically assume, I found this crystal nonsense to be massively disappointing. However, I am at a loss to propose a better alternative. Nothing prior to this moment could have been reasonably used instead of the “Crystal Of Creation." The game has already done what it could with both Terra and the Iifa Tree, so essentially, a Deus Ex Machina was the only possible option. Was there anything prior to this to suggest the existence of a "Crystal Of Creation?" NOPE! Is there anything latter which reinforces the importance of this crystal as a necessary storytelling device? NOPE! Do we ever see the characters teaching future generations of the existence of this crystal? NOPE NOPE NOPE!

I am left to speculate what benefit the inclusion of this crystal has on the story. The cynical answer is that it exists purely as referential material to prior Final Fantasy games. For the most part, this answer suffices. I honestly think the writers didn't care about the possible consequences of its inclusion, and saw an opportunity to cram in another franchise reference. Memoria is already a Final Fantasy I reference factory, so what harm is there in inserting another one?

Everything is terrible again.
Everything is terrible again.

I cannot imagine another possible answer. The suddenness of this reveal causes me to feel disconnected with the crystal's importance and our collective necessity to protect it. As a result, it is a tenuous artifice in motivating me to stop Kuja post haste. Kuja is already threatening to destroy all life as we know it, so having him destroy the crystal of creation comes across as storytelling redundancy. This is all dancing around what is the proverbial "elephant in the room." By devolving to referential schlock, the game deprives the story of emotional poignancy and gravitas.

Level with me here. I have an easier time relating to wanting to protect one's family and friends, rather than some Deus Ex Machina crystal. So by inserting this reference, the penultimate plot twist feels entirely devoid of an emotional core. It's just there. It happened, and there's nothing you or I can do to change this. However, there’s no shaking the fact that the crystal is wasted space. Had the game spent more time fostering its interpersonal relationships everyone would have ended up for the better.

Part 132: The Game Ruins Kuja

At least we have a clear and cohesive villain, right?

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!

Why the fuck is Kuja cackling about starting the assimilation of Gaia into Terra after we watched him raze Terra? The crystal of creation is right behind Kuja, so why in the world does he even care about completing Garland's grand plan? Why does Kuja wait for Zidane instead of destroying the crystal outright? What the fuck is Zidane talking about with this line of dialogue?

Have you been ignoring Garland this entire game? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
Have you been ignoring Garland this entire game? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

How does all life on Gaia survive being assimilated into Terra? Didn't Garland just mention the assimilation process destroys all life on the planet after it starts? Is Zidane an expert in things that have never happened? Who the fuck is "Deathguise?" Why is any of this happening?

Honestly, can one of you tell who the fuck Deathguise is?
Honestly, can one of you tell who the fuck Deathguise is?

I see so much wasted potential with Kuja. The game could have drawn our attention to clear parallels between Kuja and Zidane, or even Vivi. Sadly the game changes Kuja's characterization on a whim, and we are expected to accept this for the sake of the story. You get a twinge of resignation by Kuja when you finally confront him, but the game shirks away from making good on this. For what seemed like 90% of the game we watched Kuja make shitty affectations as he billowed Shakespearean prose, and then for the last 10% he stops. We never witness Kuja toiling at his mortality, or regretting his actions as he tried to contextualize his fate. We juxtapose from cocky Kuja to vindictive Kuja and finally to redemptive Kuja all in two hours. This has the unfortunate consequence of cheapening every emotional note the game pines for with the later scenes involving Kuja, especially his final interactions with Zidane. The scaffold in which Kuja's story arc is built upon is so nakedly transparent to the audience, it is honestly painful to watch.

With the story up its own ass, we are left to enjoy the spectacular set pieces and climactic battles as is. However, lacking a cohesive backbone they all feel artificial. The game has poisoned its own well with its penchant to add in unnecessary bullshit to an otherwise perfect formula. Kuja wanting to destroy Gaia because he is an insufferable pissbaby is fine by itself. Sometimes you honestly should just let the villain be an insufferable pissbaby! But no... memories are eternal because there's a crystal in the center of the universe. At least the music for Kuja's final battle is awesome:

The execution of our battle with Kuja is genuinely enthralling. Once again, the game provides a wonderful spectacle which distracts you from the inanity of the game's prior moments. The game's penchant for doing this rivals that of a parent waving a set of brightly colored plastic keys in front of a whining toddler. Either way, there's a sense of finality with every attack you inflict upon Kuja, and vice versa. The stakes of the battle are illustrated to the player as it begins. Spinning perilously in the background is the crystal of life we suddenly have endeavored to protect. It's almost as if this should be the final boss battle... ALMOST!

You have got to be shitting me.
You have got to be shitting me.

Before I rip the Necron reveal a new fucking asshole, let's discuss how the game takes the piss out of Kuja. Here we were thinking Kuja was a man acting on his own free will. While we are not expected to empathize with Kuja, we understand why he wishes to destroy the universe. Then in comes Necron, and we discover not only is Kuja a cog in a machine, but he is acting at the whim of an immaterial being. Is that too much of a leap of logic on my part? Fine, but there's no denying that Necron takes away much needed time from Kuja. In the game's final moments Kuja is depicted in a relatively sympathetic light, and I found this to be morally reprehensible on the part of the game. Our last interactions with Kuja showcased him defiantly wanting to destroy the crystal of creation, and eventually, he's a sorry sack of shit I'm supposed to care about. What in the flipping fuck is that about?

So instead of having Necron why not have a scene where we engage Kuja intellectually? This confrontation would force Kuja to address the needlessness of his actions. All I am asking for is the game to justify Kuja’s redemptive arc, but it doesn’t! Instead, we have to fight a random asshole called "Necron," whom we have never seen before, and the game has not once created a scaffold for. What a fucking shitshow!

I'm
I'm"jumping for joy" this game paid homage to one of the greatest movies ever created.

Part 133: Necron Is A Hot Trash Fire

I would like to rant about how thoroughly FUCKED the battle against Necron is! Fuck that battle, it's a bunch of bullshit! Having a boss be able to use Firaga, Blizzaga, Thundaga, Meteor, Holy, AND Flare? THAT IS SOME CHEAP ASS SHIT! Then you rope in “Grand Cross” which can inflict all possible status effects to every character at random, and this battle becomes an intolerable slog!

What a wonderful capstone to this video game.
What a wonderful capstone to this video game.

I also want the record to show how done I am of Final Fantasy bosses having attacks which instantly drops my party members to 1 HP. I get the developers want this battle to come across as the final confrontation, but this just sucked. This is all ignoring the fact Necron as a story device is a fucking travesty. Upon defeating Kuja, he drags our party into an alternative dimension where Necron resides. Necron then declares that Kuja has proven the necessity of destroying all life in the universe.

This is honestly all you get in terms of the story justifying Necron... what a dumpster fire.
This is honestly all you get in terms of the story justifying Necron... what a dumpster fire.

Out of pure desperation, I ended up examining several fan theories as to the “true meaning behind Necron.” I ended up deeply regretting my decision, but that is a story for another time. The fan theories I saw devolved into two distinct camps. The theories either thought Necron was the personification of a negative emotion, or Necron was the reincarnation of a character we encountered earlier. As was the case when I idiotically decided to read into the "Squall is dead" fan theory for Final Fantasy VIII, I ended up seeing massive flaws to each of these fan theories.

Let's not beat around the bush. Even if either fan theory was correct, the reveal of Necron occurs suddenly and without pomp and circumstance. Having precious time be spent fighting Necron deprives the game of that desperately needed characterization I called for Kuja. You know, a character we have seen evolve over time and whose motivations we understand. Instead, we end up fighting a rejected member of the Blue Man Group.

A rejected member of Blue Man Group who feels he could debate nihilism with Nietzsche.
A rejected member of Blue Man Group who feels he could debate nihilism with Nietzsche.

Let's delve into the aforementioned fan theories I take umbrage with. Theory #1 is problematic for several reasons. Saying Necron is the personification of nihilism or sin just comes across as desperate. Claiming something is a metaphor for "evil," is the lowest of all hanging fruit. This fan theory also requires a level of nuance Final Fantasy IX has lacked since the very beginning. When Final Fantasy IX wants you to understand a metaphor, it bludgeons you over the head with its simplicity. So in a way, I’m saying this fan theory isn’t true because it's too good.

Theory #2 is just shitty. If Necron is the resurrection of a previously encountered enemy, then he cannot be the reincarnation of an enemy we give a shit about. The prospect of Necron being the reincarnation of a B-tier bozo from earlier comes across as lazy and irresponsible storytelling even for a Final Fantasy game. If a jagoff wants to tell me Necron is the reincarnation of Soulcage or the Four Fiends, then I'm just going to roll my eyes and ask "why should I care?"

Do you want to know what my theory is? This is a simple throwback to Final Fantasy games having final bosses for the sake of it. Nothing more, nothing less. The only difference is the time we are made aware of Necron's existence. My exact reaction to crossing paths with Necron went something like this:

  • [Me]: Looks like the game pulled a boss out of its ass... that’s happened before.
  • [Me After Ten Seconds]: This is a Final Fantasy game.
  • [Me After Thirteen Seconds]: I'm moving on with my life.

There's a deluge of evidence to ponder over which points to the idea Necron is just another half-baked bullshit encounter or plot device. The story has been littered with these before, so what's to suggest Necron isn’t another example of this? If the game honestly wished to convey a final metaphor or pivot, it failed astonishingly. The absence of an emotional scaffold to this final confrontation is the real true villain of Final Fantasy IX.

Part 134: Kuja's Redemption Is Irresponsible

Lo-and-behold after defeating Necron our troupe of misfits finds themselves safely transported outside of the Iifa Tree. As Zidane is about to board the Hilda Garde to safety Kuja imparts a farewell to his former nemesis. Upon receiving this message Zidane surmises Kuja transported our party to safety. After declaring his intent to locate Kuja, each character has a brief aside with him before he leaves. These touching parentheses are the last emotionally resonant scenes to be had until the game's conclusion.

Let's give a round of applause to Steiner being a true gentleman in giving Garnet and Zidane some privacy.
Let's give a round of applause to Steiner being a true gentleman in giving Garnet and Zidane some privacy.

I say this on account of me having a violent reaction to what the game does with Kuja in his last waking hours. A deathbed chat in and of itself is a laughably generic way to end any character. For a Final Fantasy game to resort to such a baseless and tired trope is downright unforgivable. Yeah, the scene where Zidane flips around inside the Iifia Tree is fun to watch, but it's in service of the game providing sympathy for the devil.

Until this point, Kuja was just full himself. We watched him bring devastation and death wherever he found himself, and now we are expected to view him as either misguided or worth redemption. Kuja is directly responsible for multiple acts of genocide and war crimes. Not only that, but Kuja enacted all this destruction with a sadistic sense of glee. He doesn't deserve shit! That Zidane is willing to talk with Kuja as a brotherly figure is even more insulting. Minutes ago both characters were pining to erase each other from existence.

NO HE WOULDN'T WHY WOULD YOU EVEN THINK THIS? WHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHY?!?!?!
NO HE WOULDN'T WHY WOULD YOU EVEN THINK THIS? WHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHY?!?!?!

This leads me to my point of the game being irresponsible. In providing Kuja the briefest sense of redemption the game belittles the implications of his prior acts of cruelty. How is saving a dozen people even close to absolving him of the countless lives Kuja ended at Madain Sari, Terra, Alexandria, Lindblum and Burmecia? This is dancing around a more fundamental issue I have with our chat with Kuja. By having this scene I feel as if the game uses genocide and war crimes as an empty story device. This belittles their gravity and makes Final Fantasy IX complicit in perpetuating the myth that even the worst of the worst has something redeeming hidden deep within them. This is downright reprehensible for any form of media.

From a more figurative perspective, the game does not do enough to set up what part of Kuja is worth “saving.”. For much of the game we have watched Kuja massacre civilians, profit from wars, spread mist, and raze entire cities. And yet we are told of the importance of remembering Kuja's legacy as part of Mikoto's eulogy. But what part of Kuja's legacy is worth saving? If we save any part of Kuja's legacy, isn't the game whitewashing his more heinous acts?

So you learned the value of your life from a genocidal maniac? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN SAYING?!
So you learned the value of your life from a genocidal maniac? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN SAYING?!

I honestly do not think the writers understood how careless the conclusion of Kuja's story arc was. They used the pain and grief Kuja caused to evoke an emotional response out of the audience, and when that utility was no longer convenient they discarded it. This is what I find objectionable most of all. It is that the game uses genocide as a story beat and asks us to view things with a long-term styled form of thinking. This is beyond fucked when you stop and think about it.

Part 135: Well... This Is One Way To End A Video Game

I think 80% of the conclusion for Final Fantasy IX is an unintelligible dumpster fire. The other 20% is a marvelous spectacle which ties the characters together in an emotionally resonant and touching conclusion. For all intents and purposes I should have violently rejected Final Fantasy IX's final vignettes as convenient bow-tying, and nothing more. But I cared enough about each of the character's on account of the game's heart being in the right place, and the story exuding charm during its quieter moments.

Now it is time for
Now it is time for "shit to get real."

The emotional core of Final Fantasy IX comes from its use of interpersonal relationships. Whether it be a growing sense of brotherhood or burgeoning feeling of love; the story subjects you to the highest of highs when it stays grounded on relatable characters. The final batch of vignettes provides this in spades. Discovering Vivi’s family, or Eiko being adopted by Cid and Hilda provided the strongest emotional reaction I have had since the Black Mage Village on disc two.

Each character receives a satisfying conclusion you feel they have earned. Through hard work and due diligence, our cast members finally can wipe the sweat from their brow and settle down to appreciate the finer things in life. It is honestly a marvel to watch a story provide a sense of resolution to each of its characters that avoids coming across as cheap and unearned. Every character ends up in a position which fits their character. It's as if we are witnessing the magic of storytelling in action.

What a great way to end a story. These vignettes are awesome!
What a great way to end a story. These vignettes are awesome!

Freya finds herself back in the loving arms of Fratley. While she still retains the memories of their previous relationship, she recognizes the need to make a new lineage of memories as they both work to rebuild Burmecia. Eiko has been adopted by Cid and Hilda, with the quarrelsome couple finally having patched their relationship up. Eiko is seen expressing a sense of affection towards her adopted parents and knowing she is finally in a loving home is a touching reward given all she has been through. Steiner convinces Beatrix to delay her retirement so they can defend the kingdom they have grown up in together. Shit man, I'm just thankful Steiner somehow turned into a character worth a fuck. Amarant is still seen wandering the outskirts as a vagabond, but this time is seen with Lani. This suggests he's finally seeing the worth of working with friends, rather than in isolation. Quina is a chef... that's all I will say about Quina.

I redact every negative comment I previously levied against Eiko.
I redact every negative comment I previously levied against Eiko.

Then we watch Garnet assume the throne of Alexandria. She has transformed into the queen she was destined to become, and gone is her superficial posturing. She is humble, mature, and serious when it comes to her responsibilities in running her kingdom. Then there's Vivi... GOOD GOD did this game almost manage to squeeze a tear out of me. After the characters were subjected to hypercharged melodrama, witnessing the conclusion of Vivi's arc is without a doubt the most rewarding aspect of Final Fantasy IX's story. While Vivi is dead, he has ensured the continuation of his life lessons by spawning a new generation of Black Mages. Our rewards in life sometimes are not physical or material goods, and this serves is a friendly reminder. The progeny of Vivi also underscores the narrative's point about the immortality of memories.

If only every person had a Vivi in their life.
If only every person had a Vivi in their life.

The speech Vivi extolls in the game's last moments is equally poignant. Being the game's emotional core you cannot help but feel a twinge of sadness Vivi is gone. Knowing this, the writers had every line of dialogue from Vivi detail why we would shouldn't feel sad. Vivi thanks Zidane and everyone else for providing him with a rewarding life, and promises that the experiences he has had with them will live on forever in the next generation of Black Mages. It's a deathbed soliloquy that works versus the problematic soliloquy we witnessed from Kuja. Here we literally watch a character say goodbye to both the characters in the game, and us, and I cannot help but feel emotionally moved.

I honestly think the world would be a better place if Vivi was a real person.
I honestly think the world would be a better place if Vivi was a real person.

One can decry the game for relying too heavily on a heterosexual nuclear family as a cultural norm. The game presents heteronormativity with no alternatives. But if the result is as emotionally moving as this you almost want to let the issue slide. Well, there is one thing which really bugged me about the ending.

Part 136: Zidane Is A MASSIVE ASSHOLE To Garnet

So there's a person who really likes you. I would even hazard a guess they are madly in love with you and may be interested in spawning an army of children with you. You feel equally passionate about this partner. You two get split up, and your partner believes you to be dead and has been struggling to come to terms with your death ever since. Surprise, you aren't dead, so my question is this: how do you approach your partner for the first time?

Do you:

a.) Relocate your partner post-haste. Why cause them to fret about your supposed death more than necessary?

OR

b.) Wait months upon end until you can surprise your partner as a masked member of an acting troupe.

What a tool!
What a tool!

The play as a scene is too fucking long. You immediately understand what the game is going for the moment the play starts. At no point does the game invert your expectations. It satiates your expectations without disappointing them. Even then, a solid five minutes could have been lopped off of it and I would have felt better about the scene overall.

Like seriously, Zidane is an asshole. Here's the one person he loves more than anything else and he waits until he can make a massive scene where everyone can watch him be lovingly embraced by Garnet. This is a real fucked up thing to do to the person you love. But hey, it provides the game with its final "money shot," so I guess everything is forgiven.

I will take what I can get.
I will take what I can get.

Also, this game seems to know me better than I know myself. After Garnet and Zidane have their loving embrace the game smash cuts to this prompt:

Final Fantasy IX is asking some real hevy questions.
Final Fantasy IX is asking some real hevy questions.

The game responds to its own prompt with the greatest possible answer:

Final Fantasy IX is the
Final Fantasy IX is the "realest" video game ever created.

Part 137: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Final Fantasy IX?

I did it. I finally did it!
I did it. I finally did it!

So I'm done. I am finally free from another one of my Final Fantasy induced Sisyphean torments. This time I feel calling my Final Fantasy journey a "torment" is pure histrionics. There was a lot to be enthralled about over Final Fantasy IX. Simultaneously there was plenty to decry about the game all the same. I can safely say I enjoyed my time with Final Fantasy IX more than what I initially suspected.

I have yet to find the Final Fantasy game which strikes a chord with me. I'm still trying to find "my" Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy IX got closer than the previous entries in the franchise I have played. Unfortunately, there was enough in the game I found to be "off," that it didn't entirely resonate with me as much as I would like. This blog series has made my perspective on storytelling and narrative structure nakedly apparent. A simple, but tight narrative goes a long way, and so far this series has been bereft of what I normally look for in my stories or video game experiences.

I cannot shirk away the "lower" moments I had with the game's story either. The twists and pivots in Final Fantasy IX were without a doubt better storytelling devices than those which graced Final Fantasy VII or VIII, but they were personally more frustrating. I was bored with the initial set up to Final Fantasy IX given my personal distaste for the fantasy genre. Knowing what I know now I cannot help but wonder if the game would have benefited from being a more traditional Final Fantasy game through and through. By not being a more grounded in reality story Final Fantasy IX swung and missed on a stark number of story set pieces. This also exacerbates the game's issue of having more than a dozen half-baked story twists and plot developments. For every Vivi character arc, we have everything which occurred in Terra. For all intents and purposes, the math is against Final Fantasy IX's favor.

Then there's the point of mechanics; a point I have honestly neglected on this series. Final Fantasy IX is the Final Fantasy game I enjoyed "playing" the least. The odd middle ground the game seeks to strike between the junction system from VIII and the more traditional combat systems from the past made it difficult for me to wrap my mind around. The game failing to surface its nebulous jobs or classifications of characters also hurt my experience. I can see the value of having gameplay distinct characters after Final Fantasy VII and VIII both struggled to differentiate their cast with their respective "Tabula Rasa" combat systems. However, Final Fantasy IX pushes things too far to the opposite side of the spectrum. The game’s battle system is a sluggish bore and takes its sweet ass time to speed up to a tolerable pace. What I find even more intolerable is how it fails to become visually or mechanically interesting until the second-half of the game.

But when Final Fantasy IX "works," it is a marvel to behold. Those "half-baked" plot pivots I mentioned earlier? They don't account for as much of the game as I make them out to. In their stead, are some resonant and touching character moments which I will hold on to for the rest of my life. When Final Fantasy IX understands the value of its characters and their place in its narrative, it can function at the plane it believes it is worthy of functioning at.

I have already mentioned how I believe Vivi is the emotional core of Final Fantasy IX, but it is a point worth echoing. Vivi isn't just the best character in Final Fantasy IX; he may well be one of the greatest characters seen in the medium. Over the course of the game, we watched a clumsy and naïve young lad evolve into a mature adult. His transformation is a slow, but deliberate change you relate and empathize with. Vivi's journey with mortality is one we will all have to face at some point, and I can only hope to face my mortality with half the grace Vivi did.

A majority of the cast were equal heavy hitters. I could moan and groan about Amarant and Quina until my face turned blue, but even they had their moments in the game's concluding hours. Better yet was Steiner, Garnet, and Zidane. All three of these characters annoyed me to no end during the game's initial moments, and yet somehow the game convinced me to care about them. From watching Steiner become a self-reflective adult to Garnet casting aside her superficial affectations; the changes to these characters felt real. Zidane was an emotional roller-coaster for me. Some of the game's "lowest" moments owe their dubious status on account of him. However, I cannot help but see a part of myself in Zidane, and I can only imagine the designers intended me to feel this way. His brash naivety is continually confronted by the stark world he is forced to interact with, and eventually, he comes to understand what really is important in life. His brotherhood with Vivi was a continual delight, and his other interpersonal relationships brought a true sense of unbridled joy to Final Fantasy IX.

While I'm still not entirely "sold" on the relationship between Garnet and Zidane, it was a relationship at least built upon the foundation of mutual respect and affection. Unlike Final Fantasy VIII, whose relationship arc was the equal to nails on a chalkboard, there was a sense of progression with Garnet's love for Zidane, and vice versa. We watch Zidane and Garnet playfully tease each other, and through it all you watch the two come to a mutual understanding of each other. This sense of progression was an attribute to Final Fantasy IX I greatly appreciated. The worlds we explore morph and change depending on our place in the story, and characters come and go depending on our actions. Final Fantasy IX is a game which leaves no stone unturned even for the smallest things.

So I am left with this final conclusion. I can finally recommend a Final Fantasy game without a caveat. I recommend Final Fantasy VIII to anyone who wishes to play the video game equivalent to a laughably bad movie. For Final Fantasy VII, I stand by my assessment every person with a decent respect for video game history should at least attempt to play Final Fantasy VII once. So where does this leave Final Fantasy IX? Final Fantasy IX is a charming and heartwarming affair anyone who needs to feel better about themselves should play.

Final Fantasy IX has its fair share of issues, but many of these issues are endemic to a franchise as storied and complicated as Final Fantasy. But by hook or by crook the cast and characters of the game drag the story straight to your heart. Some of the absolute best moments in video game storytelling can be had in Final Fantasy IX. Sure you need to wade through what seems like a mountain of bullshit, but it's worth it to see the game's character moments progress a wee-bit more. And that's ultimately where I have to leave you. Final Fantasy IX is a flawed diamond on every possible edge, but somehow you see a luminous center worth holding on to till the end of time.

So give the game a try. It is a game made with a pure vision with a cast of characters that exude charm. Maybe you'll end up thinking the story doesn't work, but you will be hard-pressed to deny it's a game crafted without an ounce of cynicism or malice. I won't blame you if you end up walking away from it after the first ten hours, but you have to try it at least once. If you appreciate video games as a medium for self-expression and art, then you owe it to yourself to run through the game. I promise you will not regret doing so.

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Fighting Final Fantasy IX Part 102-114: If A Game Gives Me An Aneurysm, Can I Sue The Developers?

Part 102: The Most Final Fantasy-Ass Part Of Final Fantasy IX

Saving Amarant from his own fatuousness was where we ended the previous episode. As with the antecedent blog, I would like to remind my readers how Amarant jeopardized our mission for the sake of proving why he prefers working alone. Luckily for us, Amarant essentially "dies" as a character and we never have to think about him again. Having collected every elemental tablet from Ipsen's Castle; our intrepid crew endeavors to place these tablets in their respective temples. Needing to accomplish this task post-haste, Zidane develops the "excellent" strategy of having the cast break into teams of two to deliver the tablets to their corresponding edifices.

Great idea Patton! Let's break up the party without knowing what we are getting ourselves into!
Great idea Patton! Let's break up the party without knowing what we are getting ourselves into!

Right then, this premise makes ZERO SENSE! First, why is it so important we work hastily? Why didn't Zidane give a shit about speeding things up while he was moping about Garnet or playing in a card tournament? Why can't we deliver the tablets one at a time? How is individually transporting four teams to four different temples saving us time? How is this any better than going to each temple one at a time with a full party? If we went to the temples individually we wouldn't have to worry about wasting time picking up each team in their respective temple.

Second, we do not understand what we are dealing with inside these temples. What if Zidane allowed Garnet and Eiko to carry a mission critical payload and Kuja was the boss at their intended temple? They would have been fucked! Why does no one think of this EXACT SITUATION as Zidane proposed this idea? It doesn't help the groupings themselves are FUCKED! Eiko strong-arming her way to have Garnet as her partner, for the sake of "girl talk" was a pick-axe to my temple. I mean for fuck’s sake, I thought the game was done with this comical bullshitery!

Fantastic idea letting the two White Mages form a team!
Fantastic idea letting the two White Mages form a team!

Speaking of comical bullshitery, having the player's party be Zidane and Quina is BULLSHIT! I say this as someone who has put ZERO TIME into leveling Quina or collecting Blue Magic. This further places Zidane’s judgment into question. Why in the world does Zidane just wantonly create these groupings without a care in the world? Isn’t transporting these elemental tablets critical to our quest of stopping Kuja? Why does everyone stop thinking like logical people? Why do the characters think these temples are NOT each guarded by some horrible monster?

BECAUSE THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS!
BECAUSE THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS!

Let's make something apparently clear. I understand this entire sequence is largely an homage of the "Temple of Fiends" from the first Final Fantasy. Fine, it is Square's game and if they wish to pander to their audience that is their prerogative. I will preface, as a Final Fantasy "neophyte," I found this entire sequence to be flat. Sure the direction was fantastic, with quick juxtapositions between each of the parties, but the structure itself felt painfully artificial. We only have player agency over Zidane and Quina's activities at the Earth Shrine, but none at the other shrines. Additionally, the scenes here lack explicit context. We discover the foes which face us at the shrines are "Guardians of Terra." We assume these guardians are connected with Kuja, but filling in this gap is left to the player’s imagination. Lacking context during these moments makes it difficult to get emotionally enthralled with what is witnessed.

As Shakespeare would say
As Shakespeare would say "They fight."

Part 103: The Point Of No Return

The game makes it painfully clear entering the Shimmering Island is the game's "point of no return." The cast has many brief asides, and they are all questionable in terms of self worth. Eiko bluntly confronts Garnet regarding her feelings for Zidane in the cringiest manner imaginable.

Great job in being exactly what it says you are on the tin, Eiko.
Great job in being exactly what it says you are on the tin, Eiko.

Subsequently, Amarant expresses befuddlement with Zidane's need to fight for something besides personal or financial gain. It's as if Amarant has been provided with every possible opportunity to learn the meaning of "altruism," but refuses to do so. I can't even anymore....

I give up.
I give up.

Then we enter the portal to Terra. As I suggested in the previous episode, this is where Final Fantasy IX almost entirely lost me. Full disclosure, had the game not included the “You're Not Alone” sequence, I was fully prepared to “Rage Quit” the game. That scene “saved” me, and if it did not exist, I think my opinion of this game would be entirely different. I feel as if I have already pleaded my case on why I feel this, but I'll articulate my points again for posterity's sake. My ultimate issue with Final Fantasy IX's story pivot is how at conflict it is with the game's original tone and setting. Everything prior to the pivot was on the polar opposite of the narrative spectrum (i.e. light-hearted fantasy) to what the pivot brought to the story (i.e. science-fiction and soul theory). When you compared the two you realize the massive leap of logic you are expected to accept in order for the story to “work.” In Final Fantasy VII and VIII both games have science fiction based pivots, but at least they were science fiction based stories from the get-go.

I have nothing against the prospect of any game providing its story with a major plot twist. A character “pipe bomb,” or general plot twist can genuinely invert your expectations and re-frame the story within a new context. Per contra, I cannot hesitate but throw down caution as this perspective is presented. The attitude that the Final Fantasy franchise is a franchise steeped in adding insane nonsense to its stories at the last minute is troubling. Using twists to maintain an audience can prove counter-intuitive. If this defines the franchise, it practically sets up future entries for failure. Some games will use pivots correctly, and others will not; failure is baked into the franchise by default.

No Zidane, things are FUBAR
No Zidane, things are FUBAR

Finally, and this is what honestly grinds my gears, how did the game prepare me for this? Where was the game's explicit foreshadowing this science fiction alternate dimension even existed? In terms of art direction, there were two set pieces which suggested a futuristic underworld or dimension. Those locations were the Iifia Tree and Oeilvert. Did we witness the characters pontificate upon the alien design of either location? NOPE, and the fact the game cannot connect such dots drives me insane. Worse yet, these two locations exist in isolation and are not reinforced as the story progresses. Oh, and Zidane being able to read the technobabble in Oeilvert and Ipsen's Castle? Turns out he's a clone from Terra, so there's your answer! Was there anything provided within the game to support this revelation? No, so essentially the foreshadowing here comes across as a third-grader's first attempt.

Part 104: Deconstructing Garbage

Let's jump directly into the game's introduction of Terra. After placing the elemental tablets in their respective locations, our party discovers a massive tempest by the Shimmering Island. With the portal being a massive hurricane, Zidane declares our best option is to jump directly into it. Without equipping his party with protective gear or parachutes, everyone jumps straight into the hurricane. Well then… this is a scene in this video game. This happened. Zidane says "hey let's jump smack dab into this massive storm," and everyone goes along with his idea. W-what? WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING ANYMORE?

When can I book jumping into this portal for my next corporate retreat?
When can I book jumping into this portal for my next corporate retreat?
These are the eyes of the devil!
These are the eyes of the devil!

So is this the game's naked attempt to ape Final Fantasy VII's parachute jump scene, or am I crazy for even suggesting this? So much of this game is an homage to prior Final Fantasy games, I honestly would not put it past the developers to have included a nod to Final Fantasy VII. Either way, after we successfully navigate through the portal we discover the neon-drenched dystopian futurescape of Terra. Here is where everything related to the story crumbles for me.

No, we are on the moon you dipshit!
No, we are on the moon you dipshit!

As we take control of Zidane, the old robot man from before appears in front of Zidane and welcomes him to “Terra.” The old man's name is eventually revealed to be “Garland,” because there are not enough references to Final Fantasy I already. Zidane's initial interaction with Garland boils down to a Shakespearean, “What's in a name?” existential debate. Garland prompts Zidane to question his progeny and origins, and Zidane rebuffs Garland. This confrontation spoils Zidane being from Terra with each of Garland’s sentences painfully spelling out this reveal. Having Garland declare “You know nothing,” and “See what Terra is, and what you are,” all but confirm your inklings of Zidane being from Terra.

This spoils the deluge of time the game spends on the dramatic reveal of the Genomes. To make matters worse, we have never seen Zidane torn or emotionally distraught over not knowing his origins. This ultimately castrates the gravitas to a vast majority of Garland’s villainous soliloquies. There was a single brief scene on disc two where Zidane told Garnet a story clearly about himself. The scene highlighted Zidane’s basic desire to know more about his past, but isn’t reinforced during future moments in the story. Instead of making this a major undertone, Final Fantasy IX pulls this out of its toolbox when it is convenient to the story, and this greatly hampers its emotional impact.

What are you talking about? I know 2+2=FISH!
What are you talking about? I know 2+2=FISH!

The idea or concept of Zidane actively wanting to know where he came from has never been addressed beyond a single scene. This results in the moments pertaining to Zidane discovering more about his origins being devoid of narrative stakes. It does not help Zidane conveys a limited emotional range as he learns more about himself, but the scenes were sabotaged from the outset. Why do I care about Zidane knowing more about where he came from? The game's answer is to tie his origin into a hackneyed subplot pertaining to him being the harbinger of Gaia's destruction. Which leads me to:

Part 105: Everything That Happens In Terra Is The Pits

After Garland mysteriously disappears Zidane quickly encounters a female humanoid with a tail, like himself. Zidane dispatches to chase after the girl, and when he finally does, she ends up extolling this:

I swear, this game is mocking me.
I swear, this game is mocking me.

After spending a brief amount of time in Terra we enter a town on this decaying planet named "Bran Bal." As we ascend the steps to the town the airship "Invincible" passes over Garnet and Zidane. As Garnet stares directly into the Invincible's red orifice, she realizes the airship is the ominous “eye in the sky” from earlier. This means the Invincible destroyed the Summoner Village and many other locations significant to Garnet. Because the writers of Final Fantasy IX appear to have no other narrative tools to depict her as experiencing a neurosis, they have her pass out and remain unconscious for two hours… AGAIN!

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME!
YOU HAVE GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME!

With Steiner looking over and protecting Garnet; Zidane leads a party to locate a shelter in Bran Bal. As we enter the town, we discover it to be populated with tailed humans who look shockingly like Zidane. It is at this point I feel as if the game insulted my intelligence. Not only has this EXACT PLOT TWIST been painfully splayed out for all to see, but attempting to investigate the matter results in the game farting in your face. Think the second part of that sentence was histrionics? Here's what happens when you attempt to interact with the citizens of Bran Bal:

Who in the what now?
Who in the what now?
Did the writers ask a molecular biologist write the dialogue for the Genomes?
Did the writers ask a molecular biologist write the dialogue for the Genomes?

Responding to unintelligible technobabble with further technobabble is far from optimal in my books. Every level prior to this the game placed a great amount of emphasis on exploring the world to better understand the context it exists within. On this occasion, where I would argue it matters the most, the writers and designers flipped the bird to the audience. Do you want to know what the deal is with the history of Bran Bal? "GO FUCK YOURSELF," is essentially how the game responds to you!

Eventually, Eiko informs Zidane the young girl from before wishes to talk to him in a laboratory. Where this can be found, or how one navigates Bran Bal is entirely up to the player to discover. Remember how I mentioned there being an insufficient amount of time wherein Zidane is torn about not knowing his parentage? The game becomes cognizant of this and has Freya mention Zidane isn't “acting like himself.” I'm not joking, this is honestly how the game sets into motion Zidane's ENTIRE CHARACTER MOMENT. It was at this moment I swore loudly at my computer screen:

WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT?!
WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT?!

So why is this such a problem? Well let’s review basic "facts" related to Zidane’s characterization at this point:

  1. Lines of dialogue where Zidane scoffs at everything Garland or Mikoto says: A FUCK TON!
  2. Lines of dialogue where Zidane seems dismissive of what he sees or is forced to do in Terra: WAY MORE THAN WHAT THE GAME NEEDS!
  3. Lines of dialogue where Zidane appears to express emotional poignancy about discovering himself to be a soulless clone: JACK FUCKING SHIT!

NO, YOU CAN'T DO THIS, THIS IS JUST WRONG! You cannot have a character state to the audience a character seems emotionally distraught and expect the audience to buy into this! I don't make the rules on how to convey a story. If I wrote the rules, then I would have one rule be:

Rule #889: Have characters express an emotional state prior to their character moment which compliments the events of the aforementioned character moment.”

You CAN'T wave a magic wand and say “hey it's time for Character A to be sad and emotional,” because your story demands it. Such a tonal shift must be justified within the context of the story, otherwise, the scene will come across as painfully contrived. I would even go further and say Zidane is essentially on an emotional roller coaster set to the exhilarating speed of five miles-per-hour until the last leg. At that point the coaster accelerates to over 500 miles-per-hour as your clothes are physically ripped from your body.

There's still this kind of shit to pontificate upon for the more inquisitive types!
There's still this kind of shit to pontificate upon for the more inquisitive types!

Admittedly, the game ends up conveying a scene wherein Zidane conveys a spectrum of emotions on par of a normal human being. Here I cannot help but look at the abject laziness of the writing. Imagine for a minute a larger Final Fantasy meta-narrative where each game is connected. Could you imagine Zidane loudly declaring “MAN! I went through a 10-minute emo-phase….” Then off in the corner Cloud and Squall are nodding their heads whilst saying “That's rough, buddy.” Yes, the “You’re Not Alone” scene works on a superficial level and is one of the game’s strongest moments. Yet, when you stop and think about Zidane's eventual depiction of angst, the entire scaffold for the scene comes crashing down like a house of cards.

Part 106: It Just Gets Worse... No, It Just Gets Worse

Because the story demands it, Garnet awakens from her slumber to reveal her hunch the Invincible destroyed the Summoner's Village. Do you recall how Shakespeare usually included a character whose purpose was to summarize the events of the story? Did you know he did this because he suspected most of his audience in the Globe Theater only came for the action sequences of his plays? Shakespeare always viewed a majority of his audience as intellectually beneath him. He included a modernized version of the Greek Chorus to keep the peons in his theater up to speed every half hour. This is how I feel about Garnet’s declaration about the Invincible. It's the writers thinking I'm an idiot who didn’t piece this together ten minutes ago.

But it gets worse.

Finally, Zidane musters the courage to confront the young girl in the laboratory. There he discovers the citizens of Bran Bal are all clones born from a tube. The girl then painstakingly explains to Zidane that he too is one of them, and his race is known as “Genomes.” So were you expecting this revelation would finally cause Zidane to feel more than the two or three emotions he is apt to depict?

Because clones worked out so well for Spider-Man
Because clones worked out so well for Spider-Man

I would like for the record to show at this exact moment I Ctrl+Alt+Delete-d the game and shut it down for a day. I play games because they make me feel good or question my surroundings. I feel like the games I play value my time and have something interesting to offer. The one thing I ask out of every game I play is to not waste my time. At this instance, Final Fantasy IX was wasting my goddamned time. I have put up with its bullshit for three fucking discs. I deserve characters which encourage me to live vicariously. I deserve transformative experiences which allow me to emphasize with the cast. I deserve emotional gravitas which moves me at an interpersonal level. I don't deserve Zidane being a sarcastic prick for comedic purposes.

Fucking give me a break Zidane... not here, and not now.
Fucking give me a break Zidane... not here, and not now.

Zidane is a character the game wishes for me to be emotionally invested in. For much of the game, he repulsed me with his casanova-wannabe antics, and his confrontational attitude with the world which surrounded him. Somehow, and I'm not sure what exactly was the panacea, my stance softened, and I warmed up to Zidane. His interactions with Vivi were excellent, and through the game’s sheer brute force, I believed in his relationship with Garnet. Now was the time for the story to be about him. Now was the time for Zidane to shirk off his superficial posturing. Now was the time for Zidane to mature into the adult we saw inklings of in scenes prior to this.

The game sabotages all this for the sake of having Zidane crack wise. The emotional tone of Zidane in the laboratory and in the next scene with Garland is wrong; it's just entirely wrong. Every scene in Terra and Bran Bal is ruined due to Zidane being Zidane. It’s tragic what the game wastes here. The game could have attempted to aim for our hearts, but instead aimed for our guts. The attempts to induce guttural laughs are painful, and Zidane’s commentary counter-intuitive. Instead of fervidly rejecting Garland’s offer to live out his prophecy from an emotional standpoint, Zidane sarcastically rebukes the old man. I’m just left baffled at what was done here.

But hey, it turns out Zidane isn't a soulless zombie like the rest of the citizens in Bran Bal!

What a fucking cop-out!
What a fucking cop-out!

It’s tough to judge whether Final Fantasy IX made lemonade out of lemons. The spectre of the past looms ominously over Final Fantasy IX, and there’s no denying this. Previous games within the franchise have already tackled the issue of self-discovery, and some better than others. Having Zidane be introspective about his progeny may have drawn direct parallels to Cloud or Squall. On the flip side, how Final Fantasy IX differentiates Zidane from his predecessors is too aggressive, and often disorienting for the audience to witness.

Part 107: I Officially Hate Zidane Again!

With Zidane irreparably "damaged" the game moves onto to contextualizing Garland's motives. If you love Final Fantasy stories being inane bollocks, then are you going to LOVE the next couple of scenes! It is revealed Garland is on a quest to restore Terra to its former glory. Garland created the Genomes to transfer the souls of the people of Terra into them. NOT ONLY THAT, but Garland plans to transport the long dead citizens of Terra to Gaia. To assist this transition, Garland hopes to transform Gaia into Terra by changing its light source from blue to red. I am NOT joking about that previous sentence.

No... there's no way the story gets THAT stupid. There's no way in the wor....
No... there's no way the story gets THAT stupid. There's no way in the wor....

AW SHIT!
AW SHIT!

For those of you who read my Final Fantasy VIII retrospective, you may recall my extensive discussion about narrative “skyhooks,” and “cranes.” For those that are unaware, a “skyhook” is a plot or plot point that exists out of thin air because the writer needs it to be there. There is no base for the skyhook, and in fact, nothing builds up or supports the skyhook other than an otherworldly person needing it to be there. Now we also have “cranes,” and cranes work to develop a narrative skyscraper from a simple foundation. From this foundation a crane provides a set up to a new plot development, and once that development is over the character in question is “elevated” to a new level in the story. From there a visible scaffold guides the character to their ultimate destination.

I honestly wanted to throttle Zidane when he said this.
I honestly wanted to throttle Zidane when he said this.

To Final Fantasy IX's defense, most of its storytelling avoids narrative skyhooks for cranes. Even here the revelations in Terra have a scaffold that builds towards its exposition dumps. However, at some point when a construction company is building a skyscraper they recognize they only need one or two cranes, instead of a dozen. This is ultimately where Final Fantasy IX falters. Not satisfied at proposing a parallel planet or cloning, it then needs to top this all off with soul-transfer and the dichotomy between free-will and predeterminism. Instead of masterfully building a single foundation, Final Fantasy IX haphazardly constructs five… on the third disc.

In any story one or two of these thematics would have sufficed. Topics as dense and complicated as soul-transfer could reasonably last a skilled writer a lifetime to do justice. By presenting all these topics as possible pivot points, the game stretches the story to a proverbial “breaking point.” There was no possible way Final Fantasy IX could handle all these topics and develop them into marvelous moments in the story. You could make the argument the game circumnavigates many of these problems by putting on a special dress and subjecting its audience with its charms, but this is a band-aid in the grand scheme of things.

For once I agree with Zidane!
For once I agree with Zidane!

Part 108: Final Fantasy IX Decides To "Borrow" The Worst Part Of Final Fantasy VII

ARE YOU GODDAMNED KIDDING ME?!
ARE YOU GODDAMNED KIDDING ME?!

Fucking seriously? Are we honestly back to this dumb bullshit about the cyclical nature of souls?

So wait, is Terra inside Gaia? Is it a secret subterranean civilization?
So wait, is Terra inside Gaia? Is it a secret subterranean civilization?

Is Garland simply a less memorable rendition of Sephiroth? I only ask because much like Cloud's character arc in Final Fantasy VII, Zidane is revealed to be the trump card of an antagonist’s masterplan. Having sent his only begotten son to Gaia, Garland planned on Zidane furthering his aim of taking over the souls of Gaia... or something like that. Here's where the game honestly "lost me" at a basic comprehension level. There's a cycle of souls on every planet, and this cycle exists on Terra and Gaia. Somehow Garland plans on replacing the souls of Gaia with the souls of Terra. So Garland created Soulcage to turn the Gaian souls into a mist, and replace those souls with Terran souls, or this is what I think is the case. I mean… CAN SOMEONE HELP ME HERE? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS!

Why does Garland need to control Gaia's cycle of souls? Isn't the cycle of souls on Terra the only cycle he should care about? How is putting the Terran souls in Gaia going to assist him in putting those souls in the Genomes? Why doesn't Garland just transfer the souls of the Terran people into the Genomes and then teleport the Genomes to Gaia? If the Terrans are in the Genome bodies, won't the blue light no longer hurt them? Why doesn’t Garland create clone bodies immune to being damaged by blue light and put the Terran souls in those? Why is Gaia so critical to Garland's plan? There are myriads of planets in the universe; so why not pick another one both uninhabited and doesn't have a light source fatal to the Terrans?

[At least Zidane seems to have regained his common sense.]

Zidane took the words right out of my mouth.
Zidane took the words right out of my mouth.

Beyond that, there’s the simple fact Garland has the technology for transferring souls and cloning people, but DOESN’T USE THIS TECHNOLOGY TO FIX TERRA! You honestly mean to tell me this technologically advanced society couldn’t just “science” their way out of a Malthusian Dilemma? Why not just put everyone into spaceships and explore potential planets to colonize? Why doesn’t any part of Garland’s plan make sense? WHY?

The game addresses none of these plot holes. Worse yet, it believes the panacea to the myriad of issues facing its story is MORE SCIENCE FICTION NONSENSE! This is as bad as you may expect.

Wait, so is Terra underneath Gaia and some sort of subterranean civilization? Where is this happening, and how?
Wait, so is Terra underneath Gaia and some sort of subterranean civilization? Where is this happening, and how?

Part 109: What The Fuck Is The Story Trying To Accomplish With Zidane?

It is at this point Zidane finally allows the vast amounts of story exposition grab hold of him. Or at least partially. He rebukes Quina, and when he catches up to Vivi, an optional ATE which shouldn't be, Zidane is forced to confront a frightening similarity he has with Vivi. He is a homunculus, created to serve the whims of a master he disagrees with. You would suspect Zidane would finally convey a sense of being emotionally torn asunder. Instead, he continues to roll out witticisms as he is forced to reckon with real pressing issues pertaining to his identity and personhood.

What the fuck is the game even attempting to accomplish with Zidane? He oscillates between two emotional states at the drop of a hat, and I do not understand what the reasoning is for this. Did the writers intend for Zidane to come across as falling into a madness? Did they wish for him to hold onto the base emotions that defined him as he is forced to confront a stark reality? Either way, it's shitty the game has Zidane act like an emotionally "broken" automaton in one scene, and a wise-cracking rogue in the next:

Oh wow, we are getting some heavy stuff from Zidane.
Oh wow, we are getting some heavy stuff from Zidane.

...and it's gone.
...and it's gone.

What the fuck is even happening? I get the literal aspects of the scenes at hand. Zidane is Garland's greatest "creation," and has an intended purpose to bring forth untold destruction onto Gaia. What I have to question is what any of this accomplishes. At least with Cloud he experiences a clear mental breakdown and requires a close compatriot to guide him to the truth of his personhood. Cloud's character arc isn't without its faults, but its intent is clear and ends up serving a primary theme in the story. What part to Zidane's character arc ties into a greater thematic in Final Fantasy IX? DON'T YOU DARE SAY SOMETHING AS GENERIC AS "DESTINY!" Some users used the thematic of "destiny" to justify the plot twist of Final Fantasy VIII, and I'm not tolerating that bullshit anymore!

The only of these new undertones I feel services the story is the theme of predestination and free will. This thematic was a defining characteristic of Vivi's storyline and provides the game with some of its greatest moments. With Zidane, the game ends up bludgeoning the audience with its simplicity. The writing behind Zidane is so brutally simple he's honestly painful to listen to. Likewise, Garland’s offer never comes across as a divisive point of contention for Zidane to mull over. Zidane’s choices are to follow his destiny and destroy everything he loves and holds dear, or not. There’s a severe lack of nuance to the dilemma Zidane faces, and this becomes especially clear when the game attempts to draw parallels between Zidane’s angst to Vivi’s.

Like how to piss over a ledge.
Like how to piss over a ledge.

Part 110: Strange Bedfellows And Other Nonsense

"BUT WHAT ABOUT KUJA?" some of you may ask as Final Fantasy IX maniacally cackles in the background. I'm glad you asked because the next exposition dump is about to address this matter! Were you prepared for the dramatic reveal of Kuja being a Genome, and essentially Zidane's brother? Of course you were, this was a foregone conclusion when we learned Kuja came from Terra hours ago. From there it was never a massive leap of logic to assume Kuja was a Genome as it was heavily implied earlier in the game he is a "pawn" of Garland.

HE FUCKING TOLD YOU HE WAS TERRA! WHAT YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT!
HE FUCKING TOLD YOU HE WAS TERRA! WHAT YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT!

Kuja's strong will is viewed by Garland to be his greatest "flaw," but Garland still endeavors to use him as a pawn to further his goal of transferring the souls on Terra to Gaia. Speaking of which, is Kuja onboard with transferring the Terran souls to Gaia, or is he fucking shit up in Gaia for fun? I don't entirely understand why Kuja is okay with furthering Garland's plan of spreading chaos on Gaia, but not okay with further the other aspects of Garland's plan. What was Kuja's original end-goal? Was he being evil for the sake of it, or did he have a master plan which was interrupted by Garland?

Garland then droned about the cycle of souls for a solid ten minutes and I couldn't deal with this game's bullshit anymore. I couldn't. Is Garland disrupting the souls of Gaia so he can replace them with the Terran souls? Why doesn't Garland find a different planet easier to transfer the Terran souls too? Why is this happening? Oh dear God why is this happening?

So Garland is okay with waging war by proxy via Kuja, but doesn't want to invade Gaia. This makes PERFECT SENSE!
So Garland is okay with waging war by proxy via Kuja, but doesn't want to invade Gaia. This makes PERFECT SENSE!

After being prompted by Zidane, Garland discloses Zidane's role in his master plan. Zidane is a "perfect" Genome with more power than Kuja. Kuja's response to all this was to drop Zidane on Gaia and hope to never see him again. That last part was an addition on my end because the game does a terrible job of justifying why Kuja drops Zidane on Gaia rather than killing him.

This is the worst way I have ever seen a villain attempt to kill the protagonist in a video game yet.
This is the worst way I have ever seen a villain attempt to kill the protagonist in a video game yet.

Let's move on to other pressing matters. Why did Garland wait until NOW to locate Zidane? If Garland knew Zidane was a critical component to his plan why didn't he actively search for him earlier? Better yet, why didn't Garland create a third Genome? Where the FUCK is Solidus Snake in this story? Why did all the characters cease behaving like logical people?

Part 111: OH GOD PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!

Now let's talk about the Iifa Tree because this is when the game shouts "FUCK ALL!" at the audience. The Iifia Tree is blocking Gaian souls and turning them into Mist. In their stead, the Iifia Tree is replacing these souls with Terran Souls. So here's my problem, where the fuck is Terra? How is Garland transporting these Terran souls to Gaia? Is he using a telescopic space bazooka?

I guess the whole point of Zidane is the fact at some point he was meant to replace Kuja. Despite leaving Zidane to interact and grow up with the people of Gaia, Garland assumes Zidane will always have this blood lust to destroy it. This worked out in Dragon Ball, so I guess it will work out for Final Fantasy IX.

NO! I DON'T UNDERSTAND SHIT!
NO! I DON'T UNDERSTAND SHIT!

Oddly enough, this is where the story wins me back. Zidane's frank rejection of Garland works. As he is left to stew about his destiny, the story refocuses its attention on providing character moments instead of science fiction plot-twists. To be honest, this may be the most emotionally taut line Zidane ever utters in the entire game:

You mean the van down by the river?
You mean the van down by the river?
And THANK GOD this is in the game in the first place!
And THANK GOD this is in the game in the first place!

The reason I welcome this comment from Zidane is that it comes across as an honest rebuke, rather than a misplaced comical wisecrack. Practically speaking, Zidane has more to lose by supporting Garland than he has to gain. Zidane is in love, and values his relationship with Garnet. As the audience, we understand this on account of the myriad of times we watched Zidane proactively pursue this relationship. Zidane’s interpersonal relationships also underscore this point. The friendships he has developed on Gaia have physically and emotionally changed him. It’s here where the game’s commentary on free will and predeterminism begins to “work.” We all have choices which play a role in our destiny. Having Zidane make the “correct” choice, and later Kuja make the "incorrect" choice, is a poignant and powerful message.

While the game’s science-fiction tropes bring nothing to the table to develop Zidane as a character, the idea of “choice” does. Having Zidane reaffirm his allegiances articulates his purpose and place in the story. You can feel and empathize with the emotion in Zidane’s words and thus become a willing participant in progressing his adventure. Having Zidane declare his intention to be a mass murderer NOT SO MUCH!

WAIT WHAT?! IS EVERYONE IN THIS GAME A MASS MURDERER?
WAIT WHAT?! IS EVERYONE IN THIS GAME A MASS MURDERER?

Does the game fail to realize the problem here is Garland and Kuja, and not the millions of Terrans who wish to resurrect their civilization? Why do we indiscriminately need to destroy Terra to protect Gaia from further harm? Remember the movie WALL-E? At what point did WALL-E torch the entire spaceship ferrying humanity because one artificial intelligence overstepped its parameters? My memory is suspect, but do any of you recall WALL-E using a chainsaw to decapitate the last remnants of humanity because of one “evil” robot tasked with protecting the human race?

KUJA PLEASE DESTROY TERRA BEFORE ZIDANE SO I DO NOT HAVE TO FURTHER QUESTION THIS GAME'S MORALS!
KUJA PLEASE DESTROY TERRA BEFORE ZIDANE SO I DO NOT HAVE TO FURTHER QUESTION THIS GAME'S MORALS!

Part 112: Everything Is Forgiven (i.e. The "You're Not Alone" Scene Is FUCKING AMAZING!)

I will be blunt with you right now.

  • Point #1: The musical track "You're Not Alone" is FUCKING AMAZING!
  • Point #2: The scene in which this track is used almost justifies the mountains of science-fiction bullshit we had to wade through to witness it. I EMPHASIZE "ALMOST!"

I already mention the massive flaw of this scene. When you stop and think about it, ten minutes of angst, seemingly out of nowhere, is “messy” storytelling. For almost the entirety of our time at Terra, we watched Zidane learn about his progeny, and act relatively unfazed. Now we are expected to agree Zidane is emotionally torn between two worlds. We also are expected to accept that ten minutes of angst is enough to cause Zidane to wake from his depressive episode. Somewhere, Squall is scoffing at Zidane for being an “amateur.” BUT THE HELL WITH IT! The scene’s heart is in the right place so I’m willing to accept what it brings to the table! Even if what it brings to the table is nothing more than Taco Bell. It may be nutritionally deficient, but I’m still eating it with a smile!

Fucking somehow, through the mist and the madness, through Hell or high water, the game makes all its previous hoity–toity science fiction technobabble a side note. Here the game finally conveys an emotionally evocative message resonant to all people. You are in control of your destiny, and your friends and family are the clearest reminder you have of this. Being at a personal low-point in his life Zidane can only remember the negatives of his interactions with his interpersonal relationships.

This is how I feel when I have Arby's for dunner.
This is how I feel when I have Arby's for dunner.

The game finally characterizes Zidane in a manner complementary to what happens in the game. Depressed and dejected, Zidane declares himself to be "an empty vessel," and ignores his surroundings. The supporting cast members then have to jolt Zidane from his stupor and make him cognizant of the sacrifices they are willing to make for him.

Looks as if we have another laser guided Vivi-bomb aimed directly at our hearts.
Looks as if we have another laser guided Vivi-bomb aimed directly at our hearts.

Upon rejecting the initial efforts of his friends, Zidane finds himself in a series of battles against horrible monsters and requires his companions to bail him out. This is without a doubt the single greatest non-Vivi related scene in the game. After being a brotherly figure to so many of the supporting cast members; it is now time for Zidane to rely upon the help of others as he deals with an existential crisis. It is a wonderful inversion of his role since the game has already endeavored to depict Zidane as helping his party members through perilous situations. Additionally, the scene is a happy marriage between gameplay and story with each combat sequence seamlessly highlighting Zidane’s need for his garrulous troupe of friends.

How good is this scene? The game somehow makes Amarant, who has been the doyenne of mediocrity, a highlight!

How is this happening? How are the crappy characters no longer garbage?
How is this happening? How are the crappy characters no longer garbage?

This scene even conveys Steiner, an idiot I have been bereft of feeling an emotional connection to, as a stand-up guy! I'm not fucking joking, look at this amazing line of dialogue:

Excuse me, but WHO ARE YOU? I'm looking for Steiner, and NOT a decent human being!
Excuse me, but WHO ARE YOU? I'm looking for Steiner, and NOT a decent human being!

Despite continual reminders from his close friends, Zidane still feels empowered to reject the reality of his esteem. Then, as Zidane is forced to confront the most difficult foe he has faced yet, the person he values the most comes to his rescue.

IT'S A MIRACLE! It's the magic of storytelling in action!
IT'S A MIRACLE! It's the magic of storytelling in action!

Triaging the interactions Zidane has to culminate with an interplay with Garnet is once again the writers reminding us of their skills. The cast comes together once more to admonish Zidane of every accomplishment they have had with him. It is the emotional honesty and sincerity of the scene which touched me the most. It's so simple, yet evocative simultaneously. You understand why Zidane felt dejected in the first place and what his compatriots are attempting to communicate to him. Then, after Zidane recollects himself it's an accomplishment the supporting cast earns via their own hard work. After coming back to his senses Zidane gathers the party once more to remind them of their new purpose; they, as a team, must stop Garland from bringing further harm to Gaia.

Part 113: Another Justifiable Boss Rush And A Grand Final Premise

With the team ready to confront Garland and all which he represents, our team defiantly marches to Garland's inner sanctum... right after they navigate a platform puzzle.

IS THERE NO GOD FOR JRPG LEVEL DESIGN?!
IS THERE NO GOD FOR JRPG LEVEL DESIGN?!

This minor quibble aside, Final Fantasy IX crafts a complimentary scene to accompany Zidane's character moment. After Garland offers Zidane one final opportunity to join his side, Zidane unequivocally rejects Garland and sets into motion the game's climax. Our first confrontation involves a battle against Kuja's dragon, and this encounter is NO JOKE! Armed to the teeth with wind attacks, some of which can hit your entire party, the silver dragon could dispatch my company with relative ease. Upon my third or fourth confrontation with the silver dragon, Zidane entered Trance, and I used Grand Lethal to end my woes. This set into motion my final confrontation with Garland.

Fuck off! Let's just fight and get this shit over with!
Fuck off! Let's just fight and get this shit over with!

With Garland down for the count, Kuja arrives and uses the Invincible to weaken Garland further. After some taunting on Kuja's part, he approaches Garland and mocks the old man as he battles the party. After an extended tussle, it appears Kuja is KO-ed much like Garland. However, Kuja instead enters Trance and immediately levels the party in one fell swoop. The game's justification for Kuja finding this newfound power, he absorbed the Gaian souls aboard the Invincible, again frames Kuja as an unsalvageable menace. Kuja has already abused the lives of the Black Mages and now has wasted the souls of innocent civilians; he is beyond redeeming. Kuja openly mocking Garnet that he has consumed her biological mother's soul was a low blow I can fully support. It’s cheap, but goddamn does it get the job done. Moments like those again underscore Kuja being the villainous inversion of Zidane. The glee Kuja conveys in making the lives of others miserable is complementary to his flamboyant personality.

Kuja sold the other souls to Satan. BECAUSE HE'S EVIL!
Kuja sold the other souls to Satan. BECAUSE HE'S EVIL!

After punting him to his death, Garland pulls the rug from underneath Kuja. Garland reveals to Kuja that he designed him to have a limited lifespan and his time is about to reach its end. This is one of the most spectacular examples of a villain being "hoisted by his own petard." After providing the Black Mages with the empty promise of extending their lives; Kuja finds what he brazenly abused, time, used against him. It’s a wonderful callback and an example of the foreshadowing I called for earlier.

Frustrated he cannot be the ruler of both Terra and Gaia, Kuja attempts to extinguish all life as we know it. He decides immediately that if cannot live to see the climax of his power, then no one deserves to live. This serves as a stark reminder of how Vivi and Zidane faced a similar dilemma, Vivi, more so, but took the moral high ground. In facing the premature demise of his life, Vivi made the most of his time by doing the greatest amount of good he could. Kuja takes the selfish route and holds everyone responsible for his mortality. It is an anger we understand but are not meant to emphasize with.

A face only a mother could love... or I should say robot grandpa.
A face only a mother could love... or I should say robot grandpa.

This ends up providing the game with its final premise before its conclusion. Kuja is on a rampage to destroy everything we know and love. While Kuja has reached the "incorrect" conclusion to his dilemma, he has reached a conclusion you understand the logic to. I do not say this to suggest I feel sympathy for Kuja, but instead as a counterpoint to my previous groveling of Final Fantasy IX lacking a villain with a coherent raison d'etre. It is a tenuous and “cheap” reason for being, but it is at least a coherent one. I call this cheap for a reason. Kuja’s madness occurs suddenly and plays on base emotions rather than nuanced ones. Likewise, if this is what happens when the game pulls something from “its playbook,” then I don’t want to be right.

Looks like Terra finally got the red light it was asking for.
Looks like Terra finally got the red light it was asking for.

By having a clear antagonist in the game's eleventh hour Final Fantasy IX sets up stakes which we feel compelled to buy into. Kuja's torching of Terra highlights the dire situation Gaia faces if our heroes fail. As our party watches in awe as Kuja shatters the planet of Terra they embark to minimize the pain and suffering. We commandeer the Invincible and use it to transport the surviving Genomes to Gaia. As we leave Terra, it becomes apparent there is no turning back. Kuja must be stopped.

Part 114: 50/50 Storytelling Has Me Split Yet Again

Oh Final Fantasy IX, what am I to make of you? You are a slow lumbering beast who holds its punches until I least expect it. Once you unleash your flurry of blows, they prove to be devastating. Yet here I am left to once again question if I should recommend others play you. I am essentially “stuck” repeating the same soundbite over and over again.

I do not know how I honestly feel about this game.

After having subjected me to what was essentially the game's "drizzly shits," it simultaneously provided me with one of its most evocative scenes yet. I feel rather confident that many others would enjoy experiencing these moments, but am I to also wantonly condemn people to hours of frustration and insanity? This question continues to divide my opinion of this game. I am truly flummoxed.

Regardless, this was hopefully another entertaining and educational dive into Final Fantasy IX.Maybe next time we meet there will be less craziness involved.

Oh... fuck me.
Oh... fuck me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!

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

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

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

Part 91: The Presentation In Oeilvert Is FUCKING BOOOORING!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Caption Provided

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

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

Fuck the pain away.
Fuck the pain away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sure did!
I sure did!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 99: And Now For Something Completely Different!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFTPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPT!
PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFTPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 101: I Just Don’t Even Know Anymore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ZombiePie's 2016 Multimedia Award Show Extravaganza

Author's Note: I rarely play and enjoy enough quality games to justify creating a full-fledged top ten "Game of the Year" blog or list. While I love video games and moderate a video game website, my video game library is woefully swamped with games I have never played. Sometimes my other "passions," can get in the way of me effectively tackling my gaming backlog. I watched approximately fifteen to sixteen animes throughout 2016 and returned to the wonderful world of professional wrestling. So, instead of whipping up a "traditional" Game of the Year blog I usually hand out "Special Distinction Awards" for a variety of shows, moments, and games which graced me throughout 2016. So with that, let's get on with my awards.

WARNING!!! THERE ARE MASSIVE TELEVISION AND VIDEO GAME SPOILERS ON THIS BLOG POST! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

Worst Thing I Played Claiming To Be Entertainment: Nekopara Vol. 0, 1, & 2

It is far worse than you could ever imagine.
It is far worse than you could ever imagine.

Why in the world am I bothering to waste my energy on this schlock? Nekopara is barely a “game” in the literal sense. There are no choices to be had, nor romances to evolve over the course of its smut-based story. The art is atrocious, and the locations are soul-crushingly monotonous. At best, the Nekopara games are a “left mouse click simulator,” wherein your only agency is clicking to see the next scene. The character portraits uncomfortably gesticulate to create the illusion of animation, and there are cat puns… so many cat puns.

Fun story, this was the second game I played side by side with thatpinguino. Upon discovering the “real” conceit of Nekopara, I was immediately filled with regret in roping him into my slow descent into catgirl induced madness. After we both succumbed to our slumbers the night after finishing the game I idiotically assumed our friendship was in question. That is how bad Nekopara is. I honestly thought it had permanently ruined a cherished friendship. Luckily for me, my assumption was proven incorrect as alliances based on Final Fantasy are too strong even for visual novel based filth to destroy.

Don't play Nekopara... it's one of the worst things ever made.
Don't play Nekopara... it's one of the worst things ever made.

Normally I wouldn’t give my personal vendetta to commit video game-based seppuku the light of day. Nonetheless, there’s something “special” about how awful Nekopara is. Maybe between it selling four songs from its OST as DLC for $10, or its overt themes of human slavery added to that. Either way, anything which features the Nekopara name should be avoided at all costs.

Worst Technological Development: Apple’s Dongle Hell

i.e
i.e "Technological Nightamre of 2016" (image provided by Cnet)

Oh, woe is me, of all the technological devices which reeked of the 1980s, Apple chose to draw from the quaint dongle to save its financial ass. Apple’s decision to use the dongle was certainly a tactical one to ensure its shareholders some semblance of calm as the company embarked on one of the most frustrating journeys into forced obsolescence. Was it a decision which benefited consumers? NO, TEN TIMES OVER NO! Between the company’s recent follies with the latest iPhone or MacBook, Apple is shunning the same base which ensured its survival during its darkest days.

As an educator, I can simply say the current direction of Apple seems much like an alternate reality spun by its competition’s wildest desires. As many industries purchase new technology from Apple, we find it immediately outdated within two to three years. Desiring to use our second generation technology forces us to delve into messy solutions the company believes pose only minimal annoyances. It is also worth noting how monumental Apple was in the art and education services business prior to the passing of Steve Jobs. Two industries which are not entirely excited with Apple placing the burden of making their tech usable on their consumers. And what is this in the name of? Why shunting iOS consumers towards Lightning-connected accessories no one honestly needs!

So enters the dongle. While I would love to use a 4K projection screen for my Prezi classroom presentations, this is a fool's errand for me to hope for. So instead, I have had to scrounge up multiple dongles just to use my MacBook’s basic services. All because the geniuses at Apple thought it was a great idea to create a MacBook with only USB-C ports. GREAT, this will work wonderfully on a projector which only has one HDMI out as well as a VGA port! Are these dongles as seamless and easy to use as the sleek designs of Apple's products suggest?

NOPE! (image provided by Raymond Wong via Twitter)
NOPE! (image provided by Raymond Wong via Twitter)

Dongle Hell” was certainly an easily avoided nightmare, but one Apple shows no sign of stopping. It’s a torment I, and many other consumers, will be forced to reckon with for years to come.

Worst Follow-up/Sequel: Season Six Of The Walking Dead

Oh boy... (image provided by screenrant)
Oh boy... (image provided by screenrant)

Now it is time for a bit of controversy! Before the internet is thrown into a tizzy regarding technicalities, I am aware of season six of The Walking Dead starting in 2015. On the flip side, the disappointment I felt was not fully entrenched inside of me until the season’s conclusion in 2016. The Walking Dead’s teasing of Negan is certainly the first issue to belay about the latest season. The whole season practically built towards his reveal, and the brief mentioning of his name here and there was the main draw. Then he kept not showing up. The show forced you to twiddle your thumbs in anticipation, and this was a thoroughly frustrating affair after three episodes.

Then episode eight of Season Six happened, and you realized things were not getting better.

Then Negan showed up! Once he did the deaths he caused were certainly awful and appropriate for his characterization, but they felt painfully empty. The series felt as if it was running on fumes as it desperately tried in vain to one-up previous season shockers. As Negan swung his intimidating baseball bat the series became naked in its attempt to exploit shock to draw in audiences. But even then, if you were a viewer you still held out hope the genius minds which provided us with glorious storytelling prior to this fanwankery would kick into gear.

Did the season recover? Eh, the rest of the season simply barreling forward with Negan was an awkward exercise in messy storytelling. It was clear to even the simplest mind the writers had essentially written themselves into a hole and had no idea on how to get out of said hole. It didn’t help the characterization of the remaining cast had also worsened. The first offense involved Daryl taking over the role of Carl, despite not being THAT interesting of a character. (Search your heart; you know this is true) Then you top this off with Dwight being as awful as he normally is, and season six was just a slow moving disaster.

Biggest Disappointment: Seafall

Oh, I so wanted to like Seafall. All its mechanics on paper seemed interesting in concept. Then you throw in the trappings of the legacy format, and it looked as if Seafall had a winning recipe. Even as I look over my mostly used copy of the game I am still amazed at the quality of its figures and cards. It should have been an amazing experience for any dedicated board gamer.

So what went wrong? (image provided by Boardgamegeek)
So what went wrong? (image provided by Boardgamegeek)

Despite being advertised as a legacy game which will invert your expectations Seafall is a standard "pick-up and deliver" Euro-game for a SOLID two to three hours. The legacy mechanics develop at a snail's pace, and it isn’t until the game’s halfway point (i.e. hour five) until these legacy trappings genuinely impact the story. For me, I didn’t have an “OH SHIT” moment until game six or seven, and even then my patience had already been dulled. Legacy games are predicated on shocking audiences with revelatory moments, and Seafall is not mindful of this fact. Worse yet, Seafall spends so much time teaching more than a dozen new mechanics it comes across as a “jack of all trades, but master of none.

The point system is also a mess. Endeavoring to develop the story receives minimal in-game compensation for the time it requires. Per contra, working on the fringes of the map trading provides points like crazy. If you wish to win in Seafall you are encouraged to complete a half-dozen or so boring errands, whereas being able to unleash the game’s next legacy trapping does diddly squat. Worse yet, understanding when you have earned or lost a point requires you to consult the game’s stupidly byzantine foldable pamphlet.

Oh goodness!
Oh goodness!

Seafall is the board game equal to a high budget James Cameron or Ridley Scott movie. It looks great, but once you start to inspect it you begin to notice it is held together using duct tape and crazy glue.

Dumbest Victim Of Fan/Internet Outcry: Erased

It's fine, no seriously everyone just relax. (image provided by Crunchyroll)
It's fine, no seriously everyone just relax. (image provided by Crunchyroll)

I hate the mainstream anime press. I say this as someone who has next to no experience in the anime press, and certainly respects the long hours members of the press work to provide their audience with content. That aside, the anime press, for the most part, is stuck in a bygone era which the gaming press shirked away from ten years ago. Headlines are produced with minimal research, and reviews are essentially 90% plot summary and 10% subjective extrapolation. Discussions of mood, tone, theme, pathos, and art direction, are often thrown to the wayside for the sake of discussing if the action scenes “looked cool.” And Lord have mercy on your soul if you think you can find quality criticism of anime on YouTube.

Yearly the press selects one show to present as the “most interesting” offering from the anime industry. Sometimes the press is correct, and most times it is horribly incorrect. Personally, I find the press’s penchant for presenting a yearly “SAVIOR OF ANIME,” to be an exhausting and painful exercise. Nonetheless, this year the press’s sacrificial lamb of its noted inadequacies was Erased. Erased was a simple science-fiction show with a mostly self-serious story grounded in a superficial reality. Its ups and downs were perfectly fine as long as you hadn’t drunk the anime press’s Kool-Aid, and thus originally suspected it to be the panacea to your own personal and societal maladies.

Then Erased had a story pivot which wasn’t to the liking of the average anime fan, and thousands wrote many an angry forum post about the show. With many of these same commenters failing to recognize the only reason why they were disappointed was due to the press. However, all was forgiven when the same press, which set up audiences for disappointment, placated to their hostile sentimentality in their reviews. And so the beast goes strong and will likely have another whipping boy to feast upon next year. It is a painful cycle no one seems to recognize, and I’m here to lament the loss of civility.

And seriously, Erased is a fine show with standard anime trappings. It sometimes fails to rise to the occasion, but if you honestly feel an adaptation of a Seinen manga series warrants a public outcry then… there’s no hope… just none.

Most Enjoyable Guilty Pleasure: My Hero Academia

Sometimes I just want to have fun. Sometimes I just want to watch flashy action-packed heroes beat up the bad guys. Sometimes I want to watch an easy to follow spectacle. Sometimes I do not want to be challenged intellectually. Lo and behold, My Hero Academia provides all this and then some.

I don't want to set the world on fire....
I don't want to set the world on fire....

My Hero Academia is a fun journey and one of the easiest to recommend shows from 2016. In a year which subjected us to what was essentially the “drizzly shits” of life the word “fun,” is the only justification you need to watch a show. The ensemble cast features every trick and trope an able bodied writer could use, but somehow the show makes this work. Rather than pander to its audience each of the show’s characters serves a purpose easily telegraphed to the viewer. The protagonist starts out flawed, and basically remains so throughout the series. My Hero Academia is less about the protagonist becoming the strongest character in the story, and instead learning to accommodate his inadequacies via creative thinking and using his allies. It is a show which works within a visible network of well-entrenched tropes and idioms. When this is the case with any source of entertainment your only hope is the characters are interesting and worthy of empathy. With regard to My Hero Academia, this is certainly the case.

Everyone I have talked to about this show has their favorite character and extols different justifications for their choice. In this regard, My Hero Academia is essentially an anime rendition of the Justice League animated series from years ago. Characters are each provided ample time to shine and win you over, and everyone has a believable cause to unify behind. My Hero Academia does not engage its audience intellectually, but it is certainly going to provide them with a smile. To be perfectly honest, sometimes this is exactly what the doctor ordered for.

Most Improved Source Of Entertainment: Lucifer Season 2

And speaking of watching something just for the sake of “having fun” let’s talk about Lucifer. Lucifer is the most fun you can have with a big-budget broadcast television network show bar none.

COME AT ME HATERS! (image provided by 20th Century Fox)
COME AT ME HATERS! (image provided by 20th Century Fox)

Tom Ellis depicts the fallen son of God with such a sense of glee you eventually are won over by his acting alone. The first season of Lucifer was a slightly elevated “guilty pleasure.” Lucifer’s characterization was serviceable enough, but the show was ultimately held back by its forced moments of sentimentality. Not all these moments were stumbling blocks for the first season, but they certainly existed. An even bigger issue was the dynamic between Lucifer and Detective Chloe Decker as the detective was processing her pending divorce. Scenes addressing this point usually resulted in the corniest moments in season one.

Then comes season two and everything is better! The B-plot involving Detective Chloe Decker and her ex-husband is no longer painful drivel. Lucifer had an added dynamic with his relatives, including a wonderful story arc involving his mother. Finally, Amenadie is FUCKING AMAZING in season two! The actor portraying Amenadie not only elevates the character beyond the scant few lines of dialogue he is provided, but he has quickly become one of my favorite characters in current television.

Somehow season two of Lucifer finally found the correct mix between self-seriousness and gleeful destruction on the part of Lucifer. The character has evolved into a more pensive and inquisitive figure rather than a sadistic puppeteer. This, in turn, has done wonders for the show’s story. Is Lucifer “perfect?” Well I never claimed that. What I will say is Lucifer is the perfect show to view if you just want to watch something stupidly fun.

Best Use Of 2016: Broken Matt Hardy

Broken Matt Hardy is so good it hurts (image provided by Lazygamer)
Broken Matt Hardy is so good it hurts (image provided by Lazygamer)

Broken Matt Hardy is the best thing to happen to wrestling, in the United States mind you, since Daniel Bryan won the main-event of Wrestlemania 30. The gimmick shouldn’t have worked, but Matt Hardy got behind the gimmick so passionately you had to support him by default. And GOODNESS has it been a fantastic journey for Matt Hardy! He was a man who almost completely lived in the shadow of his brother, and finally, he’s been able to stand on the laurels of his own accomplishments. There simply is no denying his “Broken persona” is a beautiful creation of his own design. On top of that, it’s without a doubt one of the greatest underdog stories told inside a ring in a good long time.

It’s the most entertaining story I have watched all year. Somewhere between losing the TNA Heavyweight Title and now Matt Hardy gained the ability to talk to spirits, change his accent, defeat all comers, and basically inject new life into the indie wrestling scene. There’s love injected in every bit of Broken Matt Hardy’s character, and it clearly shows. The man has shot some of the most compelling promos of his career, and his ability to add new levels of crazy to his character is beyond commendable. Speaking of which, let’s review some of Broken Matt Hardy’s accomplishments this year:

  • Became TNA Tag-Team Champion with his brother, and for the first time is the “brains” of the tag-team.
  • Got a boat over with the fans.
  • Got his two-year-old son over with the fans.
  • Got a drone over with the fans.
  • Boosted TNA’s rating beyond their normal viewership.
  • Became a hot commodity on the indie scene.
  • Responsible for the best episode of Chris Jericho’s podcast this year.
  • Is ready to take on the Young Bucks in Ring of Honor.

Can we discuss how Broken Matt Hardy got what is ostensibly the “pop of the year,” in Ring of Honor of all places? You know… the same promotion wherein the last time a Hardy was in it, Jeff got booed out of the stadium? That’s a “big deal” in my books, and a clear sign of an effective use of 2016.

Best Music: Stranger Things

I honestly was thinking of having the recipient of this award be “Every Netflix Original Series Intro Theme From 2016.” That seemed unfair, so I went ahead and selected the clearest winner of that slate of award recipients. Anyways, I could ramble about Stranger Things quickly becoming my favorite short series of all time until the heat explosion of the sun. Nonetheless, this about Stranger Things having one of the most evocative soundtracks of 2016, and I will hear no other arguments otherwise.

I am well aware the push back recently beset on the internet regarding electronica and synthcore soundtracks, but fuck it! The intro theme to Stranger Things is so perfect I feel fully confident in ignoring such backlash at the risk of coming across as a bandwagon jumper. When you watch your first episode of Stranger Things you honestly don’t know what you have signed up for. Well, that is until the intro theme starts playing. It is at that point you fully understand how the show will play out. The tone and mood are effectively spelled out to the audience as they hum along with the show’s theme.

The rest of the soundtrack is no slouch either. While many of the tracks are naked attempts to exploit audience nostalgia, you can almost forgive it as it so perfectly fits what happens on the screen. The moody shifts in the soundtrack create a true sense of mystery as an intrepid group of children set out to explore their surroundings. As the music shifts, you know the action and pace of the story will as well. It’s a highly enthralling soundtrack which accomplishes exactly what it set out to do and then some.

Best Scene: Orange Is The New Black (Season Four) [THAT SCENE from "The Animals"]

NO NO NO NO NO! THIS IS NOT HAPPENING! (image provided by Netflix)
NO NO NO NO NO! THIS IS NOT HAPPENING! (image provided by Netflix)

Here’s another controversial statement: I think season four of Orange Is The New Black is just “OKAY.” The show wasn’t disappointing, nor was it abjectly terrible, instead it was exactly what you signed up for. It was plodding and pedantic at times, and occasionally enthralling when its pacing decided to get its act together. Season four was equal parts entertaining as well as infuriating. The prison becoming a for-profit organization was interesting on paper but utilized inconsistently.

Then Poussey died in the second to last episode, and you almost want to forgive the show for its previous sins.

In doing so Orange Is The New Black provides a cautious reminder of the costs of standing up for yourself, and how painful doing so can be. It was a senseless death which transcends storytelling and plunges deep into your consciousness. As you watch the character experience agony your heart drops, and the tears start to roll as you cry out “NO!” The emotions you feel, as one of the most pleasurable characters in television passes away, draws you into a madness you know the answer to, and thus are left stunned everything has come to this.

The scene is utterly heartbreaking. It broke me. I was an emotional wreck for two days after watching it. I walked away from the show for a week before committing myself to the final episode. I just couldn’t, and finally, when it was all done, I learned from my emotions as it ended.

It is without a doubt one of the most gut-wrenching scenes the series has subjected its audience to since the plagues and pleasures of season two. The scene is so heartbreaking you almost have to question why it took place on the penultimate episode rather than the season closer. This all aside, this specific moment may not have been the most pleasurable moment to be had in 2016, but it is damn near the most important.

Best Character: Vivi

Vivi, you have no idea how true those words ring today.
Vivi, you have no idea how true those words ring today.

What more can I say about Vivi beyond what I have already said? He is an amazing vessel in which the writers behind Final Fantasy IX are able to transpose the best the game has to offer. With Vivi, Final Fantasy IX ends up depicting one of the most “human” characters in all video games. Vivi is without a doubt a consistent joy only the most heartless bastard would scoff at, and I say this as a blogger with a reputation for being an asshole nitpicker.

Vivi shows a character evolution which serves the story well, especially through some ridiculous moments. However, for me at least, Vivi’s inclusion was a constant draw which pulled me back into Final Fantasy IX’s otherwise superficial mythos. Every time I wanted to walk away from Final Fantasy IX the game sent a laser guided Vivi-bomb directly towards my heartstrings. As I wallowed in garbage minigames, there was Vivi to comfort my soul and remind me things would get better.

It’s amazing what Square accomplished with Vivi in forty to fifty hours. If anything, Vivi serves as a friendly reminder that when the Final Fantasy series embraces the characters of its narrative, more than its notoriously bonkers storytelling, it can and will surprise you. As you ride the Final Fantasy roller coaster you are at least able to know there is some joy and fun to be had, as you immediately succumb to the pains of whiplash. Through the mist and the madness, Vivi taught me to always take the time to stop and cherish my surroundings. For that, I am forever in his debt.

Best Level: Midgar (Final Fantasy VII)

Are you ready for another potentially controversial blanket statement? The intro to Final Fantasy VII is one of the single greatest introductions in video game history. I know… this may be the “craziest” thing I have said yet! If you are wondering, “yes,” the swooping introduction to the reactor scene is still an emotionally gripping moment to marvel over. As the game pans out to provide the audience with a visual tour of the world they are in, they immediately have a desire to explore the game’s world. Midgar is a teeming steampunkian paradise that has clearly seen its better day, and it’s admirable the game communicates this without a single line of spoken dialogue.

It's still a scene of epic porportions.
It's still a scene of epic porportions.

Midgar is a visual tour de force even today. The level exudes character and as you walk through its seedy streets you begin to understand Square Enix’s line of thinking regarding the Remake. With this level, entire generations of Final Fantasy fans were created. One could even argue neophytes were introduced to the JRPG genre thanks to Final Fantasy VII, and on that note Midgar played a role in guaranteeing this. This, more than anything else, is why Final Fantasy VII is required playing for any video game enthusiast who wishes to write about games professionally. Final Fantasy VII may well be the most historically important JRPG ever made.

So I’ll end this entry with the last couple of sentences which graced the final episode of my Final Fantasy VII retrospective:

Final Fantasy VII is a bit of a mess to play today. It requires your utmost patience and due diligence to get anything out of it. As such, you would have to be a madman to want to play Final Fantasy VII today, and that’s exactly why you should.

Game I Enjoyed Playing The Most: Civilization VI

I love how I can identify two or three
I love how I can identify two or three "problems" with the cities in this picture.

I am about to make a tenuous differentiation between “enjoyed” and “experienced” in my next two entries. Civilization VI is the game I enjoyed “playing” in large part because I found the game to be an otherwise seamless entry in one of my all-time favorite video game franchises. As someone who always felt Civilization V took one too many missteps from Civilization IV, VI was a mostly enjoyable compromise between the two. While I will always champion being able to bring down entire civilizations via cultural expansion (i.e. IV), VI makes do with the changes it does contribute to the franchise.

The increased flexibility regarding the technology tree, and finally encouraging players to carefully plan and place their cities are among the more laudable changes to the Civilization format. Agenda driven A.I. opponents also was a welcomed change of pace given how it curtails the oftentimes overabundance of war earlier entries were guilty of. Naked aggression has been replaced with a casus belli (i.e. justifying war) doctrine. Beyond this, the game is visually delightful to look at, and thus encourages players to explore their maps to their furthest corners.

Like many others, I am still torn about the slower movement speed of units, as well as what I view as the game’s hackneyed religious victory condition. Is the religion system in VI an improvement upon V? Yes, but having a toddler put the square peg in the square hole would have been an improvement on Civilization V’s religion system. On top of that, replacing the diplomacy victory condition with the new religious one seems against the original spirit of the franchise. There are other quibbles I have with the game, but they seem minor in the grand scheme of things.

There has never been a Civilization game I have not sunk in over fifty hours into, and Civilization VI will not cease this tradition. If I were to hazard a guess Civilization VI will enter my secretive pantheon of games I have played for over 100 hours. Here it will be in the welcome company of many of its immediate relatives.

Best Experience: Final Fantasy IX

A surprise for exactly no one!
A surprise for exactly no one!

So here we are, in what is the worst kept secret in all Giant Bomb blog-dom. My Final Fantasy IX blog series has not yet concluded, but I can assure you there was no other experience I enjoyed having more than it. It was far from being a smooth ride, what with the bonkers story pivot and painfully inconsistent characterization, but it provided the most gaming related fun I had all year. If you are reading this then you likely joined one of my many hearty debates regarding narrative structure, as well as art direction regarding the game. These discussions are guilty of being “armchair writing,” but they have been constructive debates which I am still greatly appreciative of.

Then there’s the matter of me actually “enjoying” the ebbs and flows of Final Fantasy IX. At its worst Final Fantasy IX was a frustrating affair which exhausted my patience. At its best Final Fantasy IX was a narrative masterpiece I shall cherish for the rest of my life. Somehow, and I know this sounds unbelievable, the game ended up winning me over despite its issues. My interactions with thatpinguino, and many of you highlighted the impact video games can have on their intended audiences. While I was skeptical at first of Final Fantasy IX having long term nuances worth holding onto, I am a changed man, to say the least.

Vivi, Steiner, Zidane, and so many other characters were simply a joy to watch, and I am glad to have watched them mature and grow. Now do I actually recommend you play Final Fantasy IX yourself? GOODNESS, this is a question I am still struggling to answer to this day. But do not let this entirely shame you into wanting to explore one of the most joyous and enthralling video games ever created. If you are looking for a fun time, you will eventually have one in Final Fantasy IX. Through Hell and high waters, I eventually had one when I played it. For better or worse I shall remember Final Fantasy IX until time subsides.

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Fighting Final Fantasy IX Part 75-88: This Game Just Wasted Five Hours Of My Life On Faffing About!

Part 75: We Are In Alexandria… Again... To Accomplish JACK SHIT

Righty-o then, last time we met our motley crew was meditating on some heavy shit. Kuja used a giant eyeball in the sky to ensnare Bahamut, and Queen Brahne was effectively offed in a matter of seconds. Final Fantasy IX’s story popped off in the concluding moments of disc two, and it was a marvel to watch over. Be that as it may, Final Fantasy IX has a noted tradition of failing to complement its action set pieces with appropriate supporting sequences. And guess what dear readers? THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS IN THE FIRST FOUR HOURS OF DISC THREE!

So is no one going to mention how the queen was evil for 99% of the game?
So is no one going to mention how the queen was evil for 99% of the game?

To be honest, I at least see and understand the purpose of Garnet’s coronation. Garnet is effectively torn between two worlds and is left to lament her loss of freedom and independence. As the heir to the Alexandrian throne, Garnet will be forced to assume responsibilities she previously has shirked away from. Here’s where I begin to have a problem with the game’s honest intentions. While you clearly observe the emotions Garnet is meant to telegraph to the audience, the game does a horrible job of spelling out why this is the case. Despite a few flirtations here and there, Garnet still hasn’t explicitly stated her feelings pertaining to Zidane. Nor has she indicated any affections towards the other members of the cast. So what is Garnet torn between? Does she miss her ability to vicariously move from one place to the next? Is she intimidated by her stately responsibilities? Is she embarrassed to confront her feelings regarding Zidane? Is she depressed by the death of her adopted mother? Why does she spend the first three hours of the game moping in the background?

This in and of itself is not a critical malady. As mentioned previously, the game's intent is so comically transparent to the audience, you can fill in many of these narrative gaps yourself. That aside, it feels like a missed chance to elevate Garnet as a character. Here the game practically wasted an opportunity to convey Garnet as confronting, and successfully addressing, a dilemma by herself. Doing so would have established her as the rightful heir to the throne, as well as a strong independent force for action. I mention this on account of the game laying the foundation of this being Garnet’s character arc since her introduction. Lacking this proactive character development simply highlights how inconsistent Garnet’s characterization is. She dons a fanciful dress for the sake of it, but without being afforded the opportunity to earn it. But hey, at least the visual spectacle is interesting to look at.

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive.

Part 76: Then There’s The Rest Of The Cast

Let’s address my major issue with the first four to five hours of disc three. The problem I have is everything you do is utterly inconsequential to the progression of the story. Kuja essentially has the ability to level entire nations, and practically none of the story’s major players acts upon this. Instead, everyone appears gripped by the news of Garnet being crowned the Queen of Alexandria. I’m sorry, but has everyone forgotten the fact Kuja possesses Bahamut? Does anyone remember Kuja effectively destroying the entire Alexandrian navy in one fell swoop? Doesn’t anyone notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

I'm just going to put this out there... I suspect Kuja may be hatching a nefarious plot on Alexandria. Just a suggestion.
I'm just going to put this out there... I suspect Kuja may be hatching a nefarious plot on Alexandria. Just a suggestion.

Rather than depicting our cast members as being spirited members in an adventure, the game instead conveys them as beholden to their base emotions. Zidane is seen wallowing away due to his carnal lust for Garnet, and Amarant is shown obsessing over his desire to “get even” with Zidane. These are just a few examples of the game entirely regressing its previous characterization of members of our party. For example, Steiner returns to his dumb-ass goofy nature after showcasing a more humanistic side prior to this. Worse yet, Vivi is back to tripping and falling on his ass:

Oh fuck me... fuck me.
Oh fuck me... fuck me.

I already know what these characters are capable of providing the story! Just ten minutes ago each of these trope heavy marionettes was defying and inverting my expectations. For the game to revert all this for the sake of adding levity to the story is just “small potatoes.” I also feel there are better ways to inject levity into a story without upending previous accomplishments with the game’s primary cast. All the game needed was your run-of-the-mill party or bar scene! Just have a large portion of the cast relax in one location, and DON’T drag it out for hours upon end. As I always say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, but this sure as Hell is NOT one of them.

The game eventually transitions to a brief scene between Vivi and Ruby. When I think of characters which needed a transitional scene… I think of Ruby. Can someone honestly tell me what the purpose to this was? Is this the game’s desire to put in shameless fan service? Is this yet another failed attempt at humor? Or is this the game’s honest attempt to re-frame the characters? Either way, everything we accomplish at Alexandria feels entirely pointless. Worse yet, just as I was finally beginning to warm up to the ATE system it goes back to wasting my goddamned time with pointless bullshit! Which leads us to:

Part 77: The ATEs In Alexandria Are BULLSHIT!

Let’s count this down together. While we are in Alexandria there is a sum total of SIX ATE sequences, and they are all COMPLETE WASTES OF MY TIME! The first ATE depicts Eiko entering the royal palace and comically being rejected sustenance from the palace chefs. Why is Eiko allowed to nonchalantly enter the royal palace after the queen was fucking murdered? No honestly, who the fuck is in charge of security at the royal palace of Alexandria? This is the third to fourth time we have witnessed one of our party members casually entering the palace without consequence, and it’s fucking driving me crazy! Either way, the game sets up Eiko for some bullshit love letter scene. OH WE’LL GET TO THAT SOON!

*insert audible fart sounds*
*insert audible fart sounds*

The second ATE depicts a reunion with a trio of bull/animal people. They announce surprise upon seeing each other and go their merry way. I have no idea why I should give a fuck about any of these characters, or how they are important to the story. Let’s just call this scene a failed attempt at adding sentimentality and move on. Oh, but if you thought this was a wonderful use of your goddamned time, then guess what! The next ATE involves Marcus and Blank gossiping about Zidane’s love life!

Do NONE of you realize there’s a magical space wizard who wishes to KILL ALL OF YOU?!
Do NONE of you realize there’s a magical space wizard who wishes to KILL ALL OF YOU?!

Oh boy, I sure do see the value of the game having this optional cut-scene system. Oh will you look at that, here’s an ATE with a bunch of Moogles you have never seen before, nor understand their purpose in progressing the story:

But at least this foreshadows a needlessly complicated side quest. Oh goody….
But at least this foreshadows a needlessly complicated side quest. Oh goody….

I would be willing to tolerate all this needless bullshit if it actually led to something consequential to the plot. Rather than that, we end up with a series of comical set pieces within Alexandria which do nothing to progress the story. In the end, all the ATEs come across as forced attempts to add humor and levity to the story. Certainly, I can respect the need to provide the cast with “rest time,” especially after a dire and draining moment. However, these ATEs are lacking any narrative backbone, and this results in them feeling disconnected with one another. Our return to Alexandria ends up coming across as less a place for our party to refocus themselves, and more a travelogue found on a tourist brochure. ALSO, DID I MENTION THERE’S AN EVIL SPACE WIZARD WHO WANTS TO SPREAD CHAOS ACROSS THE PLANET?!

Part 78: Saying Goodbye to Garnet, And The Atrocious Love Letter Scene

Somehow through the mist and the madness, Final Fantasy IX finally provides its audience with some narrative sustenance. When Garnet dons her royal garb she initiates her coronation. While this is happening Eiko manages to run into Dr. Tot who takes notice of her horn. We then bear witness to a flashback wherein Dr. Tot reminisces about seeing Garnet for the first time. He reveals Garnet bore a stunning resemblance to Queen Brahne’s, then recently deceased, daughter. Overcome with emotion, the queen and king ordered her horn be removed, and they raised the child as their own.

BRUTALITY!
BRUTALITY!

I personally enjoyed this revelation, but question why it is so haphazardly presented. Why does the game suggest Garnet as filling a void in the Queen’s life here, but spent much of the second disc depicting the queen as viewing Garnet as disposable? Just a handful of hours ago we watched the queen declare her intent to execute Garnet! Don’t these two disparate emotional states entirely contradict each other? As it stands I just view this revelation as the game attempting to dig itself out of a hole. It dropped a bombshell when revealing Garnet as a summoner, and this is likely the best the writers could come up with to make that revelation work. It’s certainly clunky storytelling, but you accept it on account of the game’s heart being in the right place.

I say the game’s heart is in the right place for many reasons. For one, the scene wherein Beatrix pledges allegiance to Garnet, despite knowing her true heritage, does the story wonders. Garnet has legitimately earned the trust and confidence of Beatrix over the course of the story through her actions, and the game takes the time to remind the audience of this fact in an emotionally taut scene. Similarly, Zidane struggling to find the courage to say goodbye to Garnet is a real and relatable dilemma. We have all been in Zidane’s position where we needed to say goodbye to someone who was right there in front of us. As we toiled away at what to say we either mustered the courage to do so, or shirked away from having closure. So the story framework for those two elements in Alexandria is fine, unfortunately, everything else is rotten to its core.

Eiko, why do you have to ruin everything you touch in Final Fantasy IX?
Eiko, why do you have to ruin everything you touch in Final Fantasy IX?

First, why in the world does the game spend as much time with a ham-fisted romance scene between Steiner and Beatrix, as it does with its maturation of Garnet and Zidane? We end up watching the game painfully set up this love letter scene for a whole twenty minutes. In the meantime, you know exactly where this development is headed, and at no point does the execution of the scene invert your expectations. For a game which has thoroughly defied my assumptions time and time again, it is depressing to witness this game fail to rise to the occasion here. It also does not help the belligerent sexual tension between Steiner and Beatrix is so obvious it would make Mulder and Scully blush. Then the scene ends with an “AWKWARD” walk-in thanks to Baku, and now I’m just left with my arms up in the air in disgust.

There is no God.
There is no God.

This leads me to one cynical conclusion. 80% of what we witnessed in Alexandria should have been cut from the game. Alexandria should have provided Garnet and Zidane the opportunity to shine and develop. Garnet should have faced her dilemma with grace, and Zidane should have taken the “coward’s way out” as he failed to face his. This would have provided two contrasting moments which imparted a clear message to the player. Taking the moral “high road” subjects the recipient with the least amount of heartache and emotional baggage. What we witness instead is a muddled travelogue which fails to elevate anything. Our cast wallows away on those initial base tropes I thought the story had finally decided to shirk away from. Then again, this is the only manner Final Fantasy IX knows how to depict humor or levity. This entire set piece is a train wreck you know is coming, but you still hold out hope will not happen. Then the train wreck happens and you just resign yourself to self-defeat.

NEITHER AM I!
NEITHER AM I!

Part 79: We Are In Treno Playing Cards… BECAUSE FUCK EVERYTHING!

NO SERIOUSLY, FUCK EVERYTHING!
NO SERIOUSLY, FUCK EVERYTHING!

Will someone please tell me why this is happening? I want your honest fucking opinions because why I am playing cards while a magical space wizard is in possession of a city razing dragon is beyond my comprehension. Does the game want to provide the characters with “breathing room?” Well, wasn’t that the whole point of our return to Alexandria? Didn’t we just witness the characters relaxing and recollecting themselves after the conflict at the Iifia Tree? Doesn’t this make our return to Treno, to participate in a card tournament, redundant?

Or how about the notion the game is effectively using its time to build the world in which we are vicariously waltzing through? Whelp, haven’t we already been to Treno before? What more is there to build upon Treno? We already know the city is corrupt and rife with thieves. The game has essentially accomplished all which it could with Treno... yet here we are, playing cards of all things. This sure is a fantastic way to build up Treno as a location of dire importance to the story!

I'm so excited, and I just can't hide it.
I'm so excited, and I just can't hide it.

Once again I understand the intent of the game, but yet again I feel the need to decry the presentation of its intent. I get it, Zidane is rebuking his responsibilities in an attempt to fill the emotional void he feels with something superficial. Nonetheless, having me perform a superficial task within the game so I can relate to Zidane’s current emotional state is decidedly SHITTY! There is no fun to be had playing Tetra Master. NONE WHATSOEVER! The various in-game attempts to frame Tetra Master as this fun activity all the characters pine to do, just makes Tetra Master all the more tragic. It is a shitshow from start to finish, and I will not hear any arguments to the contrary!

AND WHY IS FREYA THE ONLY WHO GIVES A SHIT ABOUT KUJA!
AND WHY IS FREYA THE ONLY WHO GIVES A SHIT ABOUT KUJA!

Part 80: Amarant Continues To Be A Waste Of A Character

Now I can hear some of you typing away a harsh rebuke in response to my prior histrionics. “But Chris, there are some interesting moments with the characters in Treno, and you learn more about Amarant’s backstory!” Huh, that’s funny because I recall Amarant’s only character moment here being hidden within an optional ATE. An optional ATE which amounts to no more than two to three minutes. Which I would respond with a good old fashioned “FUCK THAT!

What an absolute tragedy.
What an absolute tragedy.

This is just shitty on the writing. Eiko at least had an entire level dedicated to her in Madain Sari. If we are going to return to Treno for the sake of playing cards, why can’t we have more character moments with Amarant? If the game had genuinely progressed one of its characters I would have been willing to tolerate its superficial scaffold for doing so. The game had an opportunity to contextualize Amarant’s ho-hum vagabond ways under a new light, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, I’m left with my hands in the air YET AGAIN!

So what does the game actually provide for the audience regarding Amarant's character arc? After selecting the appropriate ATE, we watch Amarant detail to Freya the reasoning behind his intense rivalry with Zidane. After the game juxtaposes to a flashback, we see Amarant as a guard in Treno. Eventually, Amarant discovers Zidane in process of stealing something from the mansion he was guarding. Zidane, using his quick wits, attempts to convince the guards who were chasing after him the actual culprit is Amarant. For some reason the guards believe Zidane, and Amarant is left behind with his life in Treno in tatters. Not only does this ruin Amarant’s career, but it immediately causes him to become a wanted man in Treno.

Wait a minute, THIS IS FUCKED UP!
Wait a minute, THIS IS FUCKED UP!

The problem with this is EVERYTHING! Not only is Amarant unfazed about having his career ruined, but he appears nonplussed about Zidane in general. Amarant indicates insufficient understanding regarding Zidane rather than a clear sense of comradery or attraction. This inadvertently puts his place in the party immediately into question. On top of that, what is Amarant’s character arc? Amarant starts off as an introverted vagabond, and he continues to be an introverted vagabond for the entire story. So what was accomplished in including Amarant in the game? Didn’t Amarant join our party to learn how Zidane fights, and discover what his weaknesses are? What happened to that plot development? In the end, I don’t even think the game has an answer to all these questions. Instead, I think it included Amarant in the game as a showcase of the game’s mechanics rather than its narrative.

Also, can we discuss how Zidane essentially uses racism as a tactic to get away with theft? The only reason why the palace guards believe Zidane, rather than Amarant, is when Zidane highlights Amarant’s appearance to the guards. This is decidedly NOT COOL as it is essentially racial profiling played for comedic purposes. Plus, the palace guards were honestly chasing Zidane after physically watching him steal something from the mansion! Why on Earth do they let Zidane off the hook and immediately think Amarant is the culprit? Somehow we are expected to forget all this and continue to view Zidane as our chivalrous protagonist.

No, wait WHAT? When did you see Amarant steal the shit from the mansion?
No, wait WHAT? When did you see Amarant steal the shit from the mansion?

Park 81: OH GOD EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE!

Before we delve into the meat and potatoes of Final Fantasy IX there are a few things I wish to touch upon. At Treno Vivi decides to revisit the cave in which he was raised. There we learn more about his grandfather, as well as Vivi’s upbringing. It’s a quick little scene I enjoyed as it provides Vivi with some time to be introspective. As Vivi marvels over how far he has come since his humble beginnings, you begin to realize how far we have come in the game. It’s a small moment which allows the player to stop and think about their actions and decision making up to this point, and small touches like these go a long way.

Teach me everything you know Master Quan!
Teach me everything you know Master Quan!

All the same, there are other scenes which I feel are not fully executed upon in Treno. Eiko has another scene with Dr. Tot, and it appears as if we will learn more about the cultural history of the Summoner Tribe, but then we don’t. There’s also an out-of-place subplot where a four-armed man attempts to get one over on Amarant and Eiko but fails on both occasions. I find this “out of place,” seeing how this scene is never mentioned or reinforced throughout the course of disc three. I mention these two scenes as a brief counterpoint to my praise for Vivi’s short aside. If I am going to take the time to highlight small touches which elevate the game, then it would be beholden to me to highlight the small touches which do not.

So back to the “meat and potatoes” of Final Fantasy IX! The card tournament itself is exactly what you would anticipate. It is a series of Tetra Master matches which culminates in a match against a Tetra Master prodigy. For the convenience of the plot, this sage is revealed to be Cid. After defeating Cid we are immediately informed Alexandria is under attack by whom assume to be Kuja. It’s almost as if the threat of Kuja was always looming, and we shouldn’t have wasted our time on Tetra Master in the first place.

But no, now thousands of people are dead because Zidane wanted to play cards!
But no, now thousands of people are dead because Zidane wanted to play cards!

I have harped about the game’s set pieces working better once you “accept the spectacle” for what it is before, and this is yet another example. The only way for this exact series of events to happen is if the plot progress down a pathway of “convenience” rather than logic. There is no logical reason for our troupe of heroes to leave Alexandria to participate in a card tournament. If there was one, then the game spectacularly fails to articulate this reason. However, how can one argue against this when everything is so cinematic and visually stunning?

Save me from this Sisyphean Torment, Bahamut!
Save me from this Sisyphean Torment, Bahamut!

The scope of Kuja’s destruction is simply awe-inspiring. As Bahamut sets the entire city ablaze we immediately understand each character's roles in preventing further destruction. Steiner and Beatrix seek to rescue trapped civilians from monsters; Garnet assumes a leadership role in guiding the city's citizenry; and Zidane seeks to protect the only person he knows he can protect, Garnet. All this is telegraphed to the audience without ham-fisted expository text, or narrative shattering comical set pieces. There’s a sense of stakes to every scene we do witness, and every character takes their roles seriously.

I mentioned earlier how the game provides Garnet with the opportunity to function as a leader rather than as a naive passive observer. As Kuja’s wrath is inflicted upon Alexandria, Garnet has the ability to provide a troupe of knights with orders on how to protect the city. The mechanical execution of this scene is my only qualm with it. The proper roles for each knight are entirely guesswork, and at no point are you provided with any supporting information as to which role fits which knight. All the same, I have to praise the game for providing Garnet the opportunity to assume some royal responsibilities after spending what felt like a lifetime on her coronation.

Part 82: Wait What’s Happening?

Initially the action set pieces in Alexandria work, but then everything starts to slowly fall apart. Things start on a wonderful note with Steiner and Beatrix. The two endeavor to rescue as many citizens from the destructive monsters which Kuja somehow unleashed upon Alexandria. Following a half-dozen or so battles, the couple quickly finds themselves cornered. Just as Steiner begins to muster the courage to admit his affection towards Beatrix they are thrust into a battle to the death. I honestly think this is the best scene the game has had with Steiner yet.

Fine, I'll admit I am finally warming up to Beatrix.
Fine, I'll admit I am finally warming up to Beatrix.

Then things get weird. And not a “good weird,” but instead, a general “Final Fantasy being Final Fantasy” weird. A giant castle appears in Alexandria, and Garnet automatically assumes this castle is completely safe to climb up. Then again the castle is glowing, and we all know you can trust things which glow. Garnet eventually reaches a flat surface on the magical castle where she then exclaims her need to be a strong independent woman who don't need no man telling her what to do.

WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO? ARE YOU HAVING HALLUCINATIONS!
WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO? ARE YOU HAVING HALLUCINATIONS!

The game then transitions to our main party on Cid’s airship. There Zidane prompts Eiko of all people for answers on their current situation. YOU ARE GOING TO ASK EIKO FOR ANSWERS? SHE IS FUCKING SIX YEARS OLD! Following a line of questioning from Zidane, Eiko decides to jump from the ship to reach the magical castle. The magical castle stops Eiko from being smashed to bits and allows her to reconnect with Garnet. Once the two have a moment together we discover Garnet’s gems are causing this to happen, and Alexandria has some sort of eidolon which protects it named “Alexander.” Then they start praying to someone or something… I honestly don’t know what was happening in the story at this point.

How did you know you wouldn't shatter into a million pieces? Did you read the script?
How did you know you wouldn't shatter into a million pieces? Did you read the script?
Speaking of which, where does Alexander begin and end?
Speaking of which, where does Alexander begin and end?

Final Fantasy IX throws a myriad of terms and proper nouns at your direction without ever clearly articulating what is what. It wasn’t until after the magical castle sprouted angel wings I finally could piece together it was an eidolon. The scene is certainly visually stunning, but it is far from being narratively cohesive. The game basically tosses a bunch of bullshit at the scene and hopes it makes some semblance of sense to the audience. Then to make things worse, a random grandpa on a spaceship pops out of nowhere and does something to stop Kuja’s airship, The Invincible, from functioning properly.

What is even happening anymore?
What is even happening anymore?

The game crams what feels like a dozen plot points into one scene. Consequently, no one plot point can shine during this otherwise spectacular moment. This seriously weighs down the visual gravitas of what we witness in Alexandria. So all the while Eiko and Garnet are praying to an unnamed and unknown god; there’s a holy castle shooting laser beams at a dragon; Steiner and Beatrix formalize their relationship; a robot grandpa has some sort of control over Kuja; finally Kuja is powerless to a robot grandpa. What am I to make of all this? Once again I don’t think there’s an answer to this question, and that’s what prevents me from being especially excited at what I witnessed here. All the same, at least everything was pleasant to look at.

Part 83: When In Doubt Just Throw More Explosion On The Screen

Oh and at some point, I fought a textbook. Eventually I beat it.
Oh and at some point, I fought a textbook. Eventually I beat it.

Eventually, our party reaches the base of Alexander. There Zidane offers to locate Garnet and Eiko by himself. Justifying his actions by correctly postulating the dangers of summiting Alexander, as well as his personal need to locate Garnet, our motley crew consents. Once Zidane relocates Garnet and Eiko bright beams of lightning start to destroy Alexander. All I can say is your guess is as good as mine. Are the bolts of lightning coming from the robot grandpa? Is Alexander dying? What’s even happening anymore?

Ultimately, the characters evacuate from the area surrounding Alexander. They accomplish this just before a massive burst of energy from the eidolon effectively levels Alexandria. Or at least this is what I assume to be the case because after the explosion the game smash cuts to robot grandpa, or I should say, Garland. Any of you still wish to argue against my notion of the destruction of Alexandria being a befuddled mess?

Great to know the “protector” of Alexandria can burst into pure energy and destroy the city it's supposed to protect.
Great to know the “protector” of Alexandria can burst into pure energy and destroy the city it's supposed to protect.

The game then provides Garland with another opportunity to extol his “master plan.” The tragic flaw here is the game has done so little to front load or foreshadow Garland’s existence that his words ultimately fall on deaf ears. It wasn’t until I reviewed his dialogue for the purposes of this blog I fully understood the meaning behind Garland’s words or intent. The game throwing in yet another sudden plot development, in a scene already filled to the brim with them, causes Garland’s scene to become immediately forgotten. This is a shame considering how critical Garland will be to some of Final Fantasy IX’s better moments later.

I would also like to point out how I think Garland acts as a distraction to our current cast of characters, especially Kuja. Just as Kuja was starting to develop nicely as a villain the story decides to needlessly complicate things with another villain whose motivations are unclear to the audience. While many of you who have already played Final Fantasy IX could certainly argue Garland plays a critical role in the game’s ultimate story, this is beside the point. Did the story need Garland, or what he fundamentally adds to the plot? I won't entirely answer this now, but I just want all of you to think about this question for a bit.

Part 84: Garnet Gets Hit By The “Anna Karenina Disease”

Somehow Cid is capable of transporting everyone to Lindblum where they can rest and recuperate after the cataclysmic events in Alexandria. After awaking from his slumber Zidane immediately attempts to strike a conversation with Garnet. Despite his best efforts, Zidane notices Garnet is not responding to his normal flirtations. Zidane beats a hasty retreat as he makes his way to Cid’s chambers where a meeting is called between our able-bodied cast members. Here our crew fruitlessly attempts to develop a plan on how to deal with Kuja. While Amarant lectures on how Kuja is above their skill level there’s a fun scene where Kuja is seen fuming over his self-perceived failures at Alexandria. I loved this scene and how it re-framed Kuja as being more vulnerable than as he has previously been depicted as:

Hindsight sure is 20/20!
Hindsight sure is 20/20!

Kuja has already received twice as much characterization as the queen did, and this is a welcomed change of pace. As our cast wallows at their inability to locate Kuja, Eiko brings them the dire news we already were able to piece together ten minutes ago. It appears Garnet has lost her voice and is essentially afflicted with some sort of psychosis. Dr. Tot even “scientifically” postulates Garnet’s condition is a result of her witnessing the devastation of her homeland.

Well I guess Tolstoy wrote this story.
Well I guess Tolstoy wrote this story.

I am between two worlds on this matter. On one hand, I appreciate how the game uses its in-game mechanics to depict a character in turmoil or undergoing a psychosis. The game even takes the time to provide Garnet with silent soliloquies wherein she blames herself for the destruction wrought upon Alexandria. Having only briefly assumed the responsibilities of being Alexandria’s queen, Garnet already views herself as a failure. The failure Garnet feels is a real and raw emotion I think everyone can empathize with. On that note, it is worth mentioning how respectful the rest of the cast is to Garnet whilst in her present condition. Everyone immediately can recognize why Garnet is feeling this turmoil and tries to help her in their own way.

Oh quit your whining Steiner!
Oh quit your whining Steiner!

Conversely, I find the crippling of the game’s best healer to be annoying, as well as the game’s depiction of Garnet’s psychosis wanting. While the practical removal of Garnet as an effective party member is a nuisance, it’s the second point I found the most bothersome. For all intents and purposes, Garnet is afflicted with what I like to call the “Anna Karenina Disease.” Here a female character succumbs to a wasting illness, or an undiagnosable "female malady," usually tied to their emotional state. While Final Fantasy IX tries its darnedest to justify Garnet’s present condition, the game still falls prey to one of the oldest tricks in the book. When in doubt, smack your female lead with a wasting disease to establish how evil your villain is. It’s a cheap trick, to say the least, and one I would have hoped Final Fantasy IX would have avoided at all costs, but it is one which proves effective in execution. Conversely, I hate how pedantic this trope is. Oh boy let me guess, Garnet will regain her ability to talk during a moment of self-empowerment and independence. Herein lies my ultimate problem with the “Anna Karenina Disease,” you know EXACTLY where the story is going with the female protagonist afflicted by it. There are ultimately no surprises to be had here. You simply need to sit back and hope the character moments it subjects you to are well done. This necessitates a level a trust with the Final Fantasy franchise I am not comfortable affording it.

Part 85: Oh And The Game Wastes My Time On More Pointless Bullshit!

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Man, this game can go fuck itself sometimes! A major issue I have with Final Fantasy IX has been the game's consistent inability to bridge the gap between its poignant story moments. Here the immediate complement to witnessing the razing of Alexandria is collecting potions to cure Cid of being a bug. Fuck that! Fuck this game! Fuck everyone who thought this was a good use of my time! We just learned Garnet is in turmoil, and this is honestly the best the writers could come up with to complement that? FUCK ME! FUCK CID, AND FUCK HIM FOR ROPING ME INTO HIS BULLSHIT!

Collecting the potions for Cid is contrite and contrived at best, and narratively harmful at its worse. This is no better than any of the terrible mini-games in Final Fantasy VII. These aren’t blessings in disguise! They are fucking blights on an otherwise fantastic game! Collecting the potions is exactly what it says on the tin. You have to aimlessly wander the streets of Lindblum hoping to interact with anyone who may be in possession of one of the three potions Cid believes will cure him of his bug form.

Then, of course, the potions fail BECAUSE VIDEO GAMES!
Then, of course, the potions fail BECAUSE VIDEO GAMES!

Now there’s one scene during our return to Lindblum, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I wish to praise. Here Zidane is attempting to retrieve the potions when we encounter the couple we rescued in Burmecia. Zidane interacts with the couple and they quickly welcome their army of children to him. The couple even introduces Zidane as “father’s savior,” to his drove of offspring.

That's a lot of kids. Well they are rats.
That's a lot of kids. Well they are rats.

Taking the time to provide a visual reward for your actions from a previous scene is certainly a treat. I know I keep saying there’s an attention to detail in Final Fantasy IX I find respectable, but it bears repeating. On top of this scene, as you walk throughout the streets of Lindblum you begin to notice the city is recovering from the devastation wrought upon it by Queen Brahne’s army from earlier. It is not an entire rebirth, but it is a recovery built upon the hard work of every NPC in Lindblum. Time and time again we have witnessed the citizenry work on rebuilding their homes and businesses and the fact we can see progress on this rebuilding took me by surprise. In any case, after Cid has been transformed into a frog our party decides to head on over to the Black Mage Village to collect clues on Kuja’s current whereabouts.

Part 86: Hooray! The Story Goes Back To Being Interesting!

Oh Black Mage Village, please save this story from further tedium!
Oh Black Mage Village, please save this story from further tedium!

I guess I can count my blessings because the brief transitional scene we have in the Black Mage Village assuages many of my aforementioned qualms. Back is the emotional grit and brevity I have previously championed. Gone are the forced moments of comedy which shirk the game of its humanity. We enter the Black Mage Village and discover it to be abandoned of its normal villagers. All who remain are the leader, as well as the black mages who have been nurturing a Chocobo egg since our first incursion into the township.

Why is this Chocobo called Bobby Corwin? Is this a reference I missed?
Why is this Chocobo called Bobby Corwin? Is this a reference I missed?

The leader has a frank and honest conversation with Vivi and Zidane. Kuja arrived at the village and revealed the mortality of the black mages to all its citizens. Per contra, Kuja promised the black mages with a cure to their mortality. Much like the victims of a cult, the villagers flocked to Kuja in droves not realizing they were being hoodwinked. As the village leader explains this you begin to place yourself into the moccasins of the villagers. You understand the reasons behind their decision making, and while you may not agree with it, you empathize with their circumstances. We have all pined for an easy fix to a complicated matter which has none, and this is exactly what the black mages are guilty of. It is worth noting the game is clear there is not a “right or wrong” answer regarding this matter. Vivi professes to being able to place himself in the shoes of his compatriots, while also wishing to stop Kuja’s nefarious plot. Final Fantasy IX avoids boiling down complicated issues into a two-sided spectrum which would otherwise belittle the scope of the morality of the issue in the first place. While most games today still fall prey of color coding, or visually indicating the good or bad of any issue, Final Fantasy IX embraces the entire spectrum and asks you to reach your own conclusions.

Lo and behold , it's Vivi to the rescue!
Lo and behold , it's Vivi to the rescue!

I would also like to mention how vicious the foreshadowing is regarding Kuja’s promises to the black mages. Later moments in the story will essentially hoist Kuja on his own petard, and he will be left wishing he truly did have the ability to extend one’s life. What could have simply been a scene where we learn where to find the villain, also provides a deeper purpose and this further highlights how masterful the writing can be. The developers are not just getting the most bang for their buck, but they are simultaneously weaving in multiple dimensions to their storytelling. This causes the audience to stop and think about previous moments in the game, and ask themselves if their original interpretation of its purpose was correct. Any time a game prompts me to look back, initiate my metacognition, and reflect upon my thinking is a game worthy of unequivocal praise.

Eventually, we make our way to the Chocobo stable to find the other two black mages who elected to stay behind. The baby Chocobo provides the game of its most nakedly transparent metaphor yet, but one I at least respect. From the despair which has otherwise gripped the Black Mage Village has come life, and while all which surrounds the village may be death, there still remains the potential for new life. This, in turn, serves as a fantastic foreshadowing of future developments in the Black Mage Village, as well as Vivi. Despite the trials and tribulations which beset the village there is still hope for the village and its citizens to grow and expand their culture and learning.

This metaphor provides the game with its final segue to Vivi interacting with the village leader. After struggling to answer why he stayed behind, the village leader continues to be relentless in refusing to reveal where Kuja can be found. The leader has the real fear we may inflict more harm to his fellow citizens than Kuja. As was the case prior, while we are not expected to agree with the leader we can at the least empathize with him. Vivi, who steadfastly avoids talking down to or belittling the leader, proceeds to share his life story with him. He professes he is aware his time is limited, but remains to committed to crafting the greatest amount of good out of his finite time. He remains devoted to stopping Kuja as Vivi now understands the meaning to the feelings of pain and loss. Vivi also knows Kuja wishes to inflict these harmful feelings across all the continents.

Hate leads to suffering....
Hate leads to suffering....

Through his journey with his friends, Vivi has learned to understand and appreciate life, while also discerning the importance of avoiding pain and death. Those who would abuse life, or even end it wantonly like Kuja, are not figures to be embraced openly. Vivi has evolved spectacularly from the naive and impressionable youth we first encountered, and he shares this with the village leader. It is this emotional plea, and not an act of violence or force, which convinces the leader to finally relent and tell us where to find Kuja. To me, this is one of the most powerful lessons which Final Fantasy IX has imparted on its audience. While appealing to people’s emotions and humanity may not be the easiest way to accomplish your task, it is the most moral and rewarding path one can take.

Part 87: I Think Someone At Square Watch David Lynch’s Dune One Too Many Times

With everyone thoroughly impressed by Vivi’s plea, we witness Garnet silently meditating over what she has just seen. She is still incapable of speaking but is not prevented from having internal monologues. During one such monologue, she indicates a greater need on her part to be stronger and more independent like Vivi. Noticing Garnet in distress, Eiko approaches her and can automatically deduce what is troubling her. While I could decry this as being oddly “convenient,” the game’s execution completely redeems it of this moniker:

What happened to your independent streak?
What happened to your independent streak?

These are the “real” moments which should populate Final Fantasy IX, and not the pointless faffing about. The characters are beyond relaxing and playing around, as they did so for much of disc one and two. Now is the time for each of them to play an active role in addressing the problems and maladies which face their world as well as themselves. Not only that but the members of our party know how important each of them is in accomplishing our goal of stopping Kuja. On top of this, everyone is gaining something tangible from being on this adventure. Garnet is learning how to be a just leader; Vivi is learning the importance of cherishing every moment he has; finally, Zidane is learning he cannot handle every problem he faces alone. Each of our party members has a legitimate reason for being on this adventure beyond a general desire to stop the villain. Not only that, but the game fully executes on each of these points within its narrative, and does so in some of the most fantastic and emotionally taut scenes I have witnessed in a video game. So where do we go from here?

Well, then we fought a giant sand worm.
Well, then we fought a giant sand worm.

Well… at least we aren't playing Tetra Master. After following up on the hint Kuja is located in an underground palace beneath a sand pit, we immediately find our entire party ensnared in a trap set by Kuja. Maybe next time when we see a sandpit we ALL shouldn’t jump into it. I’m just going to propose this as an idea and move on. Having imprisoned our entire party, Kuja forces Zidane to hear out a proposal he wishes to share with him.

And to further highlight how evil Kuja is to the audience, his evil lair is above a lava pit.
And to further highlight how evil Kuja is to the audience, his evil lair is above a lava pit.

When Zidane enters Kuja’s private quarters, Kuja confides his “master plan” with him. Kuja wishes for Zidane to assemble a party to infiltrate a dungeon in the ancient city of Oeilvert. The reason Kuja has not already accomplished this is the ancient city has a special barrier which inhibits all forms of magic within it. This tenuous alliance is just that, and it is clear Kuja wishes to use the resources from within this ancient city to further his own goal of purposefully spreading more chaos across the continent. However, with our party dangling over pits of lava, we are forced to accept Kuja’s temporary truce.

Part 88: I Regret My Life Choices

Do you want to know who sped through Kuja’s explanation on the magical barrier in Oeilvert?

I did….
I did….

You know, the special barrier which renders all the magic based members of your party inert?

Whelp….
Whelp….

Do you want to guess what my party composition was for the dungeon in Oeilvert? Just guess…. If you need a hint think of the worst possible party to bring to Oeilvert.

Because this is what I ended up bringing. See you all next time as I loudly bemoan my life choices.
Because this is what I ended up bringing. See you all next time as I loudly bemoan my life choices.

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Fighting Final Fantasy IX Part 62-74: Final Fantasy IX Is Throwing Mud Against The Wall And Seeing What Sticks: The Game

Part 62: Eiko Could Have Been A Contender

This is how we are going to pick up from the Black Mage Village? Are you fucking kidding me?
This is how we are going to pick up from the Black Mage Village? Are you fucking kidding me?

NO! JUST NO! YOU CAN’T... NO! BAD GAME! NO! NOOOOOOO! OH GOD, PLEASE SAVE MY SOUL!

Now let me tell you how I feel. When you stop and think about it, the intermediate act of disc two marks the beginning of Final Fantasy IX’s “middle chapter.” I’m not going to play the role of the backseat writer and exclaim the game requires the prototypical “dark middle chapter.” Nonetheless, the game’s oscillations regarding its tone are just gut wrenching. The game already provided the audience with a “breather” set piece in the form of the wedding sequence at Conde Petie. So why in the world are we being subjected to three hours of Eiko swooning over Zidane, and her unleashing a bullshit love-triangle against Garnet?

FUCK! Is this what my life has come to? What a time to be alive….
FUCK! Is this what my life has come to? What a time to be alive….

Now let’s review all the reasons why Eiko does not “work” for me. Rest assured it’s not all “doom and gloom” over at Grandpa ZombiePie’s front yard. First and foremost, Eiko is a child whose age and design are purposeful for numerous reasons. The inherent tragedy of her being the “last of her kind,” while laughably generic, underscores her need to maintain a bubbly personality. Then we need to simultaneously concede Eiko’s age, and as the game clearly stipulates to the player, Eiko is six years old.

Earlier I mentioned there is an “inherent tragedy” associated to Eiko, and here is where things begin to fall apart for me. Eiko is the last of her race, and the ruins she surrounds herself with further underscores this tragedy. The premise behind Eiko is compelling in and of itself, but it is the packaging that repulsed me. Eiko is what a JRPG character would look like if you had James Cameron or DreamWorks Animation design them. Eiko is just an easy, literary “low-hanging fruit,” meant to pull at your heartstrings. She is the clearest example of a game trying to build sympathy for the audience by using a naive child I have ever seen. Do you want to know what would have been more daring or novel? What if they game provided a character visually repulsive and the game inverted our expectations with how the character interacted with the gang over the course of time? In this scenario, we slowly come to an understanding of the character’s lot in life and they feel “authentic.” Through due diligence and hard work the character must engage a bias or stereotype inherent to the narrative. As you warm to the character, so too do the other party members.

Oh wait, they already tried that and failed miserably.
Oh wait, they already tried that and failed miserably.

Eiko isn’t forced to confront anything. All she needs to do is curtsy and smile, and then you immediately become receptive to her present circumstances. Oh, and by the way, it appears Zidane is continuing to talk to Garnet like an object he possesses. I’m so “glad” this development from the Conde Petie wedding scene is continuing in the game. Well then… I guess I’ll just wonder loudly to myself if Zidane ever gets punched in the face.

Or at the very least Garnet should!
Or at the very least Garnet should!

Part 63: Can We Just Ban All Children In Video Games?

I do wish to highlight a handful of positive points concerning Eiko. First, and foremost, once the game is done with its inane bullshitery the story swoops in to rescue the player from their stupor. Yet again Final Fantasy IX stands on the laurels of its characters in a way that builds our sympathy for every cast member. Eiko’s loneliness also wonderfully ties her to the other party members. You have Vivi, who like Eiko, was adopted by another race and grew up in isolation from the outside world. You could even draw a parallel between Eiko and Zidane as both characters wish to understand more about their origins. This is a wonderful way to tie a new addition to our pre-existing party members so as to feel motivated to accept them. Despite our time with Eiko being limited, we already have a clear understanding why she’s a member of our bevy of intrepid explorers.

Consequently, it is officially time for me to begin my griping. First, Eiko is six years old. Stop and think about that. No honest… I want you to think about that fact for a bit. Eiko is six years old and is prepared to join our adventure to stop an evil David Bowie space wizard. Also, somehow Eiko speaks about her upbringing with near perfect clarity. Not only does she recall the slow death of her race, but she simultaneously can recall the death of her grandfather. So how old was she when that happened, three or four? I don’t know about you, but I sure as fuck only remember one or two things from when I used to be five. However, I’m not using these nit pickings as a total indictment against Eiko. That said, these small things showcase how tenuous Eiko’s character scaffold is.

I mean only a monster like myself would ever want to punch this face.
I mean only a monster like myself would ever want to punch this face.

In the end, Eiko is a Disney character among bigger fish. After inverting the brash Zidane, and properly showcasing Vivi’s humanity; it’s almost as if the game is done with being ambitious. After closely examining Eiko’s design I cannot help but notice how “easy” of a character she is. It is as if Square used their Quality Assurance department to set Eiko’s “Sympathy Levels” at an all-time high. Eiko has large eyes to suggest she is an impressionable youth wishing seek out new life experiences. The bright colors of her clothing are meant to encourage the audience to accept her with open arms. The horn on Eiko’s forehead provides her with any “animal element,” and on top of that, she’s wearing angel wings. So now Eiko’s design symbolically conveys her childlike whimsy. Also, EIKO WAS RAISE BY FUCKING MOOGLES! How can you honestly root against someone raised by Moogles? Then you tack on a “love triangle,” and essentially you have a “creature” that fills its storytelling purposes perfectly. While I can respect this workmanlike storytelling, this just induces a big “yawn” from me.

It is also worth recognizing how expedited and “convenient” Eiko’s back story is. In the brief six years Eio has been on her planet she has managed to live through the death of her grandfather, become the last of her race, and live in complete social isolation from anything NOT a Moogle. Vivi, Garnet, and even Zidane convey a clear sense of introspection over the course of years. Their character arcs are earned after years of avoiding their sometimes painful destiny. Eiko “earns” her release from isolation by just being at the right place and time. Did the writers grasp how illogical this seems? God, I hope so. Did they care? NOPE! Eiko isn’t about creating a character who makes logical sense. Eiko is here to provide another base appeal to your senses so as to provide the game with extra sentimentality. Disney figured this shit out decades ago, and this has been a template that everyone in mass media storytelling has employed… ever.

At least Eiko grows out of talking like this in the game.
At least Eiko grows out of talking like this in the game.

In the end, Eiko comes across as less a character and more of an artifice. Sure what is eventually attempted with her character is interesting in the grand scheme of things, but this is to be anticipated. After the dust from the Black Mage Village has properly settled I cannot help but feel this is just small potatoes. Eiko is here to bide my time before the real shit starts to pop off.

Part 64: On The Road Again To Hot Bullshit

After faffing about with Eiko, our motley crew ends up adding her to the troupe as she leads us to her home. On our way, we end up seeing the enormous and imposing Iifia Tree. The set-up to the Iifia Tree is spectacularly done. There’s a brief sweeping shot of Final Fantasy IX’s most breathtaking topiary, and this transitions well to Zidane’s own befuddlement with the tremendous natural monument. How this is meant to justify the game immediately transitioning the player to a boss battle against the Jolly Green Giant is beyond me.

Wh… what is happening in this video game?
Wh… what is happening in this video game?

This is yet another example of the game becoming cognizant of its insufficient gameplay in the most baseline manner possible. There is no narrative connection between what we have witnessed in the preceding scenes to this exact boss battle. This boss battle is here because the designers wanted it to, and there’s nothing I can do about it. So if the game designers don’t give a shit about this juxtaposition, then why should I? Don’t you love it when a game encourages you to give zero fucks?

Once our tussle with the Jolly Green Giant is over we finally arrive at Eiko’s “home.” I say “home” in quotations given she lives in the ruins of a recently destroyed town completely infested with Moogles. Despite every Moogle looking the same Eiko can tell each of them apart by listing their names with perfect accuracy. In the game, Eiko isn’t the only person able to accomplish this monumental feat. Every person in the world of Final Fantasy IX seems able to do this. Seriously, how do the people in Final Fantasy IX tell the difference between the Moogles? Do the Moogles have accents or different voices? Are there small physical differences between the Moogles I haven’t noticed? Am I going insane? Oh and somehow Eiko has a specific Moogle she has grown especially attached to. This Moogle is named, and I shit you not, “Moogle.” Let’s just say Eiko isn’t exactly the most creative mind in the world of Final Fantasy IX. Moogle also has the magical ability to fit into Eiko’s shirt pocket, and I thoroughly enjoyed how Zidane found this act of wizardry outrageous:

You live in a world of talking Hippos and thong wearing space wizards, but THIS is what surprises?
You live in a world of talking Hippos and thong wearing space wizards, but THIS is what surprises?

It is at this point the story decides to thrust Eiko into a “love triangle.” This was simply the worst. THE… WORST! Comparable to my criticisms of Final Fantasy IX’s previous missteps, I understand what the storytelling is attempting to accomplish here. It’s just the execution falls completely on its face. Moments such as Eiko swooning over Zidane, or immediately butting heads with Garnet are meant to highlight her childlike naivety, while simultaneously underscoring her abject loneliness. As a young impressionable child, Eiko is seeking social interaction with people who look like her, and it goes without saying her behavior is no different from any six-year-old. As someone in the teaching profession, I can attest to children having this innate desire to seek out social interactions and interpersonal relationships at every opportunity they can. The game even suggests in another scene that Eiko taught herself of the social customs of the outside world from romance books and plays. This is the in-game justification her social awkwardness, as well as her blunt attitude.

The fact Eiko is a child is fine once you turn off the logic centers of your brain.
The fact Eiko is a child is fine once you turn off the logic centers of your brain.

I say all this to accentuate how the “concept” inherent to Eiko is sound. What I simply object to is the presentation of this concept. The game conveys Eiko’s introduction with the broadest and most painfully heavy-handed strokes you will ever witness in Final Fantasy IX. While it is praiseworthy of the game’s thoroughness to depict Eiko’s social awkwardness as ignorance rather than malice; it’s still tough to stomach through. Where are the moral grays of Vivi, or the slow character development of Garnet?

Part 65: The Game Wastes MY GODDAMNED TIME ON MAKING DINNER!

This scene is great! Everything after it... not so much!
This scene is great! Everything after it... not so much!

Before commencing my moaning and groaning about the inanity of Eiko’s cooking, it is worth mentioning how I enjoyed everyone else’s character acts at Madain Sari. Vivi uses the party’s momentary respite to once again question his mortality. As is usually the case, Vivi’s moments are spectacular, and they set the story up for future heart warming scenes. Garnet conversely appears to be stewing over an existential crisis. While by herself she appears pothering about eidolons, as well as her tumultuous relationship with her mother. Here she openly questions the emptiness she feels now that her eidolons have been removed. WAIT A MINUTE! At Pinnacle Rocks didn’t Garnet express complete ignorance to the existence of eidolons? How can she suddenly feel an emptiness inside of her if she didn’t know these summons existed in the first place? If she did know she had eidolons, why didn’t she use them earlier? It’s not like there WEREN’T BOSSES WHERE USING THEM WOULD HAVE GREATLY ASSISTED OUR PROGRESS! OH NO, IT’S NOT LIKE THE COMBAT ISN’T A COMPLETE SLOG!

Then there’s the elephant in the room.
Then there’s the elephant in the room.

Right then, this cooking nonsense with Eiko is just that, it’s complete nonsense. Certainly, it provides the characters with “breathing room,” to expose the audience to their emotional and personal vulnerabilities, but the execution here feels so slap-dash. This is worse if you decide to view every possible ATE during this sequence. The end result is simply dizzying. In one episode we witness Vivi or Garnet having an emotional aside, and the next we watch Eiko bombastically spell out her desire to foment a relationship with Zidane. Consequently, in the same exact scene Eiko will even express momentary lapses of vulnerability:

I’m sorry but are you secretly Daisy from “The Great Gatsby?”
I’m sorry but are you secretly Daisy from “The Great Gatsby?”

Wha… what is even happening anymore? Did someone at Square have their brain prolapse mid-development? To make matters worse the game decides what the story needs is Quina. There’s honestly no justice in the world anymore.

This is the one time when the game manages to convey exactly how I feel about Quina.
This is the one time when the game manages to convey exactly how I feel about Quina.

Even then, we witness Zidane guiding Garnet to “The Eidolon Wall” which allows her to learn more about the history and religious practices of the Summoner Tribe. That’s good. This is immediately complimented with Eiko accusing Quina of being Kuja, and eventually allowing Quina to assist in making dinner for the crew. That’s bad. We eventually regain control of Zidane who can interact with the Moogles to learn more about the history of Eiko’s tribe, and the deep personal relationship she has with the Moogles. That’s good. The party then eats dinner with Eiko who oscillates between two entirely disparate emotional states in the same scene. That’s… eh. In other words, I feel like I’m shopping at the “House of Evil” for a child’s birthday gift.

You know what? I am willing to excuse Eiko’s immature bluntness when interacting with the party. What this tableau truly highlights is Final Fantasy IX’s frustrating obfuscation of its world building, as well as its desire to provide humor where it is inappropriate. Now to my first point. On my own prerogative, I needed to seek out every Moogle at Madain Sari so as to learn more about the history of the Summoner Tribe, as well as the ruination of their civilization. This is egregious game design. The possibility of not knowing the context of a location is untenable especially given how superficial the packaging for Madain Sari ends up coming across. This background information, as well as the ATEs, made Madain Sari work for me. Without them, this entire set piece comes across as an ill-fated push to force sentimentality in the story. Just have Eiko be Eiko while she informs us of the history of her people, and cut out all this comic relief bullshitery. With regard to the game’s inappropriate use of humor; I honestly feel as if I am shouting directly into a storm at this point.

Part 66: And Then All Of A Sudden All the Characters At Madain Sari “Work”

I honestly have never felt more conflicted with a location in Final Fantasy IX like Madain Sari. On one end the character establishment for Eiko is horribly inconsistent. The forced moments of humor were narrative shattering and provided me with awkward juxtapositions I struggled to stomach through. Then, through the mist and the madness, Final Fantasy IX uses its wonderful cast to draw you back into the game. Lo and behold, just as I was about to summarily dismiss Madain Sari as an honorable failure, it provides me with a touching exhibition between Vivi and Zidane.

ALL WAS FORGIVEN!
ALL WAS FORGIVEN!

I FUCKING ADORED THIS SCENE! Even today never have I seen a game place so much due diligence into establishing interpersonal relationships between its cast members. Final Fantasy IX’s use of interpersonal relationships far outshines everything the game attempts with its romance arcs. Here we witness a dejected Vivi who feels the impending specter of death dragging him down. Recognizing Vivi needs his support, Zidane comforts him in a manner both respectful, and without an ounce of condescension. Zidane doesn’t speak down towards Vivi for feeling his anxieties, and if anything else embraces him for revealing such vulnerabilities to him.

Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate or vanilla?
I guess Zidane love Bruce Lee films.
I guess Zidane love Bruce Lee films.

Zidane’s apt for humor even in the midst of destruction surfaces a more compassionate and emotional side to him. Zidane proactively seeks out opportunities to support his party during their darkest moments, and I have consistently found these episodes to be the true highlights of Final Fantasy IX. It sounds bizarre, but I feel confident in saying it, but a game from over fifteen years ago managed to convey some of the most humanistic characters the medium has ever seen. Acts like these serve as a double-edged sword. This touching aside showcases how half-baked earlier moments in the game were.

All the same, the story lulls are mostly behind us from this point forward regarding Disc Two. I would even argue the game manages to utilize Eiko’s brash and sarcastic sense of humor to its benefit. As she leads you to the Iifia Tree she does so with a sense of glee and joy you can honestly get behind. I have to hope whoever designed and/or wrote this game had a good laugh when they stopped and thought about what they were creating. God, I hope that is the case because the game seems to emanate a sense of pure joy when you play it.

Part 67: I Don't Understand What's Happening Anymore

I would like to take this time to
I would like to take this time to "thank" whoever at Square thought it was a great idea to force the player to field a party with TWO white mages! Fantastic work all around!

Surprise, after breaking the barrier protecting the Iifia Tree our party is immediately thrust into a dungeon! This dungeon happens to be populated by a myriad of undead monsters which pack a wallop. Okay, so fuck that. I used “Soft” kill all the Lovecraftian octopus monsters, and “Life” spells to instantly kill any of the undead monsters. I certainly understand the perspective which would argue I seriously need to stop avoiding trying to understand this game’s mechanics, but I am a creature of habit if anything else. If I see an opportunity to cut a corner I am going to take it. Just rest assured knowing I never worked in the food service industry. Otherwise, people would be dead. A ton of people would be dead.

This is how I feel when I wake up at 6:00 a.m. as I get ready for work.
This is how I feel when I wake up at 6:00 a.m. as I get ready for work.

The Iifia Tree caused me to experience flashbacks to the plate climbing section from Final Fantasy VII. Luckily the platforming bits on the Iifia Tree are brief, as well as few and far between. All the same, the look and design of the level reeked of Square’s prototypical environmental platforming design. Here the greatest challenge isn’t the random encounters or environmental puzzles. Instead, the true enemy is your ability to parse out the environments to figure out what is and is not interactable.

Luckily for us, the level design is at least interesting inside the bowels of the Iifia Tree. Despite the Iifia Tree’s welcoming exterior, entering the chasm into the belly of the beast reveals a far more nefarious truth. The Iifia Tree’s interior manages to visually establish a sense of artificiality, and I mean “artificial” literally. Inside we see dark and sickly mechanical structures, and the lovely naturalistic exterior fades away. The environmental filter also transitions from a soft blue, to black, and finally to an infirm neon green. Then there’s the music which masterfully hits home the hunch things are not what they seem. Boom, this right here is what I would raucously exclaim to be “adroit” direction. The visuals, gameplay, and music all blend to create a sense of death and dread.

Great idea Eiko! That elevator looks 100% legit!
Great idea Eiko! That elevator looks 100% legit!

So the art direction isn’t the issue here, but this is not to say the game has excellent “direction.” The reason for the troupe being at the Iifia Tree is muddled at this point, and what the party wishes to accomplish here is especially so. It goes without saying our cast was directed to the Iifia Tree on a tip from the Black Mage Village. Nonetheless, there are few if any clues to suggest the party is making progress in their quest to locate Kuja. In essence, this has the consequence of creating the sense the crew is continuing their journey by pure convenience rather than justifiable intuition. When one stops and thinks about it until an enormous talking tree accosts them there’s no evidence to suggest entering the Iifia Tree is bringing our motley crew closer to their sequential conclusion.

This is a real thing which happens in this game.
This is a real thing which happens in this game.

Part 68: WHELP! It Is Time For The Story To Get Stupid!

Boarding a sketchy looking elevator on a spike covered plant, our party decides now is the time to question where “mist” comes from. Final Fantasy IX sure does pick the weirdest places to have exposition induced diarrhea.

We got 99 problems but mist ain't one.
We got 99 problems but mist ain't one.

The characters' befuddlement, as well as their drive to work together, is a nice touch in the grand scheme of things. It is quaint but greatly appreciated seeing the members of a party work together as a team so as to solve a pressing stopgap in the story. I say this while peering at Final Fantasy VIII with an intense glare. Nevertheless, our team moseys their way to a magical harp looking contraption. If you felt this terrifying backdrop was the perfect place for Eiko to make a pass on Zidane then you would be correct.

This is a video game-ass video game sometimes.
This is a video game-ass video game sometimes.

Normally I would decry such balderdash, but it results in a momentary flash of introspection on the part of Zidane I found ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS!

IT TOOK YOU UNTIL KNOW TO REALIZE THIS!
IT TOOK YOU UNTIL KNOW TO REALIZE THIS!
NO SHIT! Trying to foment a relationship using respectful and kind language? Is this game set in the future?
NO SHIT! Trying to foment a relationship using respectful and kind language? Is this game set in the future?

In any event, a giant zombified tree monster pops out of nowhere and admonishes Zidane and company. This giant topiary monster appears to be the commandant of the Iifia Tree. As our Deus Ex Machina explains, the Iifia Tree processes “something” to create the mist which blankets the continents. This mist is then used to encourage aggressive and even warlike behavior by anything it touches. Kuja is using the mist to produce Black Mages and other weapons of war. If you ever wanted a perfect example of a video game story pulling a villain out of its ass in order to make its story work, well here you go!

Right then, why does the story stop making sense? Was Soulcage created by Kuja? Was Soulcage always the guardian of the Iifia Tree? Why does Soulcage allow Kuja to use the mist to create the Black Mages? It is mentioned earlier Kuja is a “weapons dealer.” Are all of Kuja’s weapons coming from the mist? Is Kuja using the mist to make guns and swords? Who does Soulcage take orders from, and why? Soulcage said it had already seen its death a thousand years ago, and then we defeated it. Does this mean I will have to fight Soulcage again? If Soulcage is trying to contaminate the world with mist why isn’t he pumping out mist at a higher capacity? Why is he allowing the Iifia Tree to hold back on its evil mojo? Isn’t the whole point of the Iifia Tree to destroy civilization as we know it? Why does Soulcage support Kuja’s plan for world domination? WHY?

At least Soulcage can be defeated by applying a Phoenix Down to it.
At least Soulcage can be defeated by applying a Phoenix Down to it.

Part 69: Final Fantasy IX’s Start And Stop Pacing Is Killing Me Softly

After Final Fantasy IX subjects us to what is essentially an exposition dump regarding the purpose of the mist, its story suddenly halts. The characters marvel over the clear skies of the continent, and then they hurry back to Madain Sari with an unacceptable nonchalance. Our motley crew brushes aside the dire situation both they and the greater world are in, as well as their responsibility to locate Kuja expeditiously. The excuse for this is doubtlessly atrocious.

How do you know that? Did you read the script?
How do you know that? Did you read the script?

What the fuck did you just say, Zidane? Are you pulling this shit straight out of your ass? I thought we went to the Iifia Tree with the hope of directly confronting Kuja! We clearly didn’t accomplish that, so why the fuck are you claiming “mission accomplished?” Well whatever, if the game thinks it can just make shit up on the fly without a care in the world, I’ll just fucking let it. Here we are at a crossroad with the story, and essentially the game is setting us for “story time with Eiko and friends.” I can hear you furiously frothing at the mouth with rage as I type this. I can practically hear you exclaiming “BUT CHRIS (i.e. my name)! The return to Madain Sari provides some wonderful story routines for the cast (i.e. Eiko and Garnet), and seamlessly introduces our final party member!” Yeah well… that’s why I feel so conflicted about this set piece.

The literal aspects of our return to Madain Sari are simply "plot by convenience." The characters temporarily stop their quest to locate Kuja, because the story needs them to. Their assumption of Kuja returning to the Iifia Tree proves correct because the story needs this to happen. Finally, there are no immediate exigencies for our ragtag party temporarily halting their investigation. I mean why does the outfit just automatically assume Kuja doesn’t have any other lackeys at or near the Iifia Tree? Why are we not conducting a thorough investigation as to how the mist is actually manufactured at the Iifia Tree? I hope this line of questioning proves my main point here. The story simply stops when it shouldn’t have, and this disruption of flow is all the more disorienting when you consider the circumstances our party is currently confronting.

If you hate Vivi, we can't be friends.
If you hate Vivi, we can't be friends.

But that aside Final Fantasy IX can almost be forgiven for all these quibbles when you stop and appreciate what it ventures with its characters at Madain Sari. Vivi forces the party to pontificate upon the aftereffects of our actions; Eiko is compelled to confront her isolationism; Zidane rises to the occasion on multiple fronts; finally, Garnet evolves beyond her substandard “fish out of water” archetype. This forward progress in terms of the story is greatly appreciated, and as with previous scenes provides the audience with touching and poignant moments. When a game has at least a workable cast that seems genuine, and their drama is reputable, you are willing to forgive the superficial backdrop they may be hiding behind.

This is why I wouldn’t decry any of my issues as being a “gut punch.” I mean I could complain about the tonal inconsistencies with Final Fantasy IX until I’m blue in the face, but doing so is pointless when the game’s heart is in the right place. Final Fantasy IX is cognizant of the fact its characters are above and beyond anything attempted with tits main story, and thus provides them with the proper opportunities to shine. The story annoyances associated with Madain Sari are less a sudden impact, and more alike being stabbed repeatedly with a butter knife. It’s not going to kill me immediately, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t hurt. So make with that what you will.

Part 70: A Little Humanity Goes A Long Way

As we marvel over our victory over Soulcage, Vivi points out the most notable consequence of our actions. Without mist, no further Black Mages will be created, and this, in turn, means Vivi’s race will cease to exist. Final Fantasy IX doesn’t strive to answer this conundrum immediately, and I do not wish to suggest it should, but I do wish to mention my appreciation of the game providing this line of dialogue. Final Fantasy IX’s writing saw an opportunity for the cast and player to genuinely pontificate upon the impacts of our actions, rather than ignoring such consequences even exist. This is a monumental improvement upon the previous Final Fantasy games I have played.

With this bit behind us, one of Eiko’s Moogles informs her of a major theft at Madain Sari. Following Eiko to her home we discover countless precious gems have been stolen from her abode. The emotion of Eiko dejected at this discovery is palpable. Eiko makes it clear to the audience how the earrings stolen were the last remnants of her grandfather. By losing these earrings Eiko has in effect lost a part of her past, and she is so overcome with emotion you can honestly feel for her.

Because you certainly have behaved like an adult prior to this.
Because you certainly have behaved like an adult prior to this.

Then Zidane decides this is the appropriate time to make a pass on Garnet:

Zidane is my nominee for
Zidane is my nominee for "Greatest Nightmare of 2016."

Somehow between getting some air, and Zidane being a jackass, Eiko got kidnapped by the female mercenary, Lani, from earlier. When Zidane confronts Lani at The Eidolon Wall she immediately demands he hands over Garnet’s gemstones. Stuck at an impasse our party is saved when some green-skinned, red-afroed mo-fo pounces on Lani. With the tide against her Lani relents and is forced to surrender all the gemstones she has in her tow.

Somehow I don't think so.
Somehow I don't think so.

I actually found this to be a bit anticlimactic. While the game certainly needed to provide the story with a proper introduction to the abilities of our final cast member, Amarant, I can’t help but question if this was the best course of action. Instead of allowing Zidane an opportunity to outwit or use his intuition to solve a pressing issue the game employs a deus ex machina. This is just the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to Amarant’s moribund introduction.

Part 71: Everything About Amarant’s Introduction Is Terrible... Including Amarant

Right away I just would like for the record to show I think Amarant’s late introduction is a storytelling “tactical error.” His late introduction stunts his character development, and what little development he is provided feels hollow comparatively to the rest of the cast. To make matters worse we never witness Amarant evolve from his initial character trope of that as the aloof vagabond. Now to Amarant’s defense he doesn’t exactly have time to evolve from this character arch, but this just proves my point that he should have been introduced earlier in the game. Then there’s the tussle we have between Amarant and Zidane. This battle is torturous. It is a bad thing.

For those wondering, the PC version has an auto save feature which is a GODSEND!
For those wondering, the PC version has an auto save feature which is a GODSEND!

This one-on-one confrontation exacerbates each of Final Fantasy IX’s battle-based mechanical issues. Zidane’s ATB meter fills up at a laborious rate, and once it has filled up Amarant has already sliced you twice. The player is then thrust into a frustrating Catch-22 wherein they are forced to use their only turn on healing potions as Amarant quickly whittles away at your patience. Our battle with Amarant is beyond contrived. Why in the world does Amarant have the ability to employ life-threatening attacks, whereas I am stuck exhaustively trying to stay alive? On that note, why does Amarant have the ability to attack twice within the time it takes Zidane to attack once? How the fuck is that fair? What is meant to be a quick battle between two warriors immediately becomes an absolute bore.

Just look at the amount of wasted space for this battle! What the fuck?
Just look at the amount of wasted space for this battle! What the fuck?

The amount of “dead time” between each attack truly underscores how slow Final Fantasy IX’s combat system is. The mechanics of the battle system prevent the intent of what the developers attempted to accomplish with this scene. I can only imagine the designers noticed this, but were powerless to do anything. Zidan’s battle with Amarant is meant to be “their moment,” but the true impact of that moment is thoroughly sabotaged. But hey, at least Amarant and Zidane “bro it out” after their fight and agree to work together.

That last sentence was me being histrionic. If Amarant's story line just involved him
That last sentence was me being histrionic. If Amarant's story line just involved him "bro-ing out" with everyone, that would have been 100 times better than what the game actually has him do.

And what was this all in the name of? Being able to include an aloof warrior monk in the story? Amarant makes it clear he and Zidane have “unfinished business” to address at some point. Following the introduction of this story beat the game entirely forgets it until another hour has passed. Worse yet, there’s no foreshadowing or recurring moments that build up an impending confrontation between Zidane and Amarant. So, in the end, Amarant comes across as entirely wasted potential, and this is a shame given how novel he is in combat. Amarant is a cross between an agile ninja and a warrior monk. I cannot attest to understanding how to take full advantage of Amarant in combat, but what I can at least appreciate is how different he feels mechanically in battle. Watching him waste away enemies by throwing junk at them is a constant supply of hilarity.

Part 72: Eiko And Garnet Become Interesting... Mostly

WELL I’LL BE DAMNED! Who would have guessed Final Fantasy IX could take two of the most painfully rigid character archetypes and invert them in a compelling manner. Upon what I can only hope is our final return to Madain Sari, Zidane has two touching exhibitions with Eiko and Garnet separately. The first setting, which involves Eiko, is an emotionally taut scene wherein Eiko embraces her “call to adventure,” and in turn shirks away her emotional and social isolationism. Caught between honoring the last wishes of her grandfather, versus her own personal desires, Eiko is forced to confront a truly adult social malady. How Eiko decides upon an answer, which results in her embracing her “call to adventure,” is a lovely milieu which evokes a response from the audience. Moments like these almost cause you to forget Eiko is six years old, or her previous story-based bullshitery. I would like to place extra emphasis on the word “almost.”

Here's your friendly reminder Final Fantasy IX uses the same pointless dialogue choices from FFVIII.
Here's your friendly reminder Final Fantasy IX uses the same pointless dialogue choices from FFVIII.

The troupe’s universal acceptance of Eiko further establishes the necessity of Eiko being a part of our troupe of heroes. Eiko deeply desires to interact with the outside world, and thus establish long-term interpersonal relationships. How Final Fantasy IX endeavors to establish why each of its party members is entwined in the story is beyond respectable, albeit a bit inconsistent. While all this attention is afforded to Eiko, we also have Amarant sitting in the background just moping in a corner. While Eiko is afforded every opportunity to shine as a character, Amarant and Quina just continue to waste oxygen. So instead of delving into Amarant’s pathos, logos, and/or ethos he simply expressed befuddlement with Zidane’s lack of blood lust, and that is all we get from the game for a solid two hours.

Then we have the story pivot related to Garnet. Now I must be honest with you, my opinion on this specific matter has flip-flopped constantly. So, if my final impressions of this story revelation end up coming across as dazed and confused, then I simply apologize. At the risk of sounding generic, sometimes video games are not a matter of “black and white” objectivism.

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.......
FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.......
FUCKING A! Garnet finally puts Zidane in his place! Where has this been all my life?
FUCKING A! Garnet finally puts Zidane in his place! Where has this been all my life?

With that aside let’s meticulously break down the scene at hand. The story starts out with Zidane and Garnet flirting with a level of belligerent sexual tension Mulder and Scully would blush at. It’s an honest enough exhibition where Zidane’s debonair attitude plays off of Garnet’s naivete wonderfully. Both parties share a level of appreciation towards one another that comes across as both honest and genuine. Then things get FUCKING WEIRD!

Let's all agree to never eat food prepared by Moogles ever again.
Let's all agree to never eat food prepared by Moogles ever again.

While Zidane paddles to a cliff, the cliff starts singing. Or I think that is what happened… I don’t know what’s real anymore. This causes Garnet to experience flashbacks to her previously forgotten childhood. So I guess the cliff may sing AND cure amnesia. Garnet faints at some point, or at least I think she does, and she has a dream about the Summoner Village. The flashback shows a giant eye in the sky, which we have seen before, and a woman on a boat. The mysterious masked lady is holding a baby, and the woman looks like Garnet. The eye in the sky is destroying the summoner village, or at least this is what I think it was doing. On top of that, Madain Sari is impacted by a massive hurricane. I assume the eye in the sky is causing the storm, otherwise, the Summoner Tribe got hit by a double-whammy. I don’t know… the game presents all these visuals without any supporting text and hopes you can figure this shit out by yourself. Either way, we discover Garnet is actually a member of the summoner tribe despite her present lack of a horn on her forehead.

Well this is certainly a story pivot.
Well this is certainly a story pivot.

Good golly Miss Molly, where do I even start? Let’s call attention to what I appreciate with this story development. First, the relationship that buds between Garnet and Eiko is a massive improvement from their love triangle tryst from earlier. The two characters slowly establish a familial relationship like sisters and this continues being an absolute treat throughout the story. I also greatly appreciated how much more introspective Garnet becomes after this moment. With a tenuous grasp of her past, Garnet feels more independent, as well as self-guided from this point forward. She certainly has progressed nicely from her “holier–than–thou” beginnings. This plot development also plays a role in reinforcing why Garnet still wishes to break the queen from her maniacal stupor. While the queen certainly is guilty of more than a few war crimes, she is all Garnet has at this point in terms of a family figure. You do not have to agree with her decision making regarding this point, but at least you can follow it. Zidane even makes a rather poignant inference on this matter:

I've only loved one being, and I've lost him twice!
I've only loved one being, and I've lost him twice!

Onto my perceived negatives, and boy are there plenty! I just want to say this is some Final Fantasy-ass plot development if I have ever seen it. For reasons which are beyond my comprehension, Garnet couldn’t simply be the daughter of the queen. No, instead she needed to be adopted from a nigh-extinct race. Why couldn’t the plot twist be the entire royal family of Alexandria is members of the summoner race? Or how about having the Queen related to the destruction of the summoner tribe as part of her insane quest for world domination? I mention all this for a reason. There’s a disconnect between this plot development and everything the game has solicited with Garnet prior. If the queen knew Garnet was a summoner why did she wait as long as she did before extracting Bahamut? Wouldn’t you want to do that BEFORE attempting to invade other countries? Because of this, the development of Garnet being a summoner comes across as an example of the developers digging themselves out of a hole. They already mechanically had Garnet be a white mage with the ability to summon eidolons. Given all the story justifications for what the eidolons are, this was probably the best the writers could come up with to justify having Garnet being able to summon shit.

But at least the game makes this work to its benefit. The characters continue to evolve and develop beyond their initial tropes. Simultaneously there’s an oddly compelling connection between the gameplay and the story. As the game becomes more transparent with its mechanics, so do the characters. For example, the in-game discovery of eidolons allows the player to use them in combat.

Part 73: Shit Pops Off Fucking Quick!

After all these touching and emotional quiet moments the shit hits the fan. After we accept Amarant to our party we immediately notice Kuja flying to the Iifia Tree on a dragon. Here we are immediately subjected to one of the most heavy-handed evil villain soliloquies I have seen in a GOOD LONG TIME!

MOTHERFUCKER EVEN SAYS “MWAHAHA” IN HIS GODDAMNED SOLILOQUY! WHO WROTE THIS? A SIX-YEAR-OLD?
MOTHERFUCKER EVEN SAYS “MWAHAHA” IN HIS GODDAMNED SOLILOQUY! WHO WROTE THIS? A SIX-YEAR-OLD?

Sensing an impending confrontation, our ragtag group dispatches to the base of the Iifia Tree. After convincing Amarant to carry Vivi and Eiko ourunit immediately locates and confronts Kuja. Did I mention how laughably evil the game depicts Kuja at this point of the story? My God, the game practically bludgeons you over the head with its simplicity whenever Kuja talks. After droning about wishing to drag the mist continent into war ad nauseam, and posturing himself as a would-be Shakespearean poet, the game makes it difficult to take Kuja seriously. Certainly, his flamboyant design is a factor of this, but his mannerisms are what immediately repelled me from his character. At some point, I just want a straightforward villain with a believable motivation for working outside the confines of humanistic moralities. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK FOR IN A FINAL FANTASY GAME? EVEN THE LEGEND OF ZELDA FRANCHISE ACCOMPLISHED THIS!

After tolerating Kuja’s bullshitery for what seems like twenty minutes Queen Brahne arrives with a massive naval fleet in tow. Viewing Kuja as the only person capable of stopping her from world domination, or whatever she is trying to accomplish in the story, the queen opens a salvo of destruction upon Kuja as well as the Iifia Tree. As mentioned earlier, despite the evidence the queen is beyond redemption Garnet still believes she can “save” her adopted mother. After dispatching a handful of random encounter baddies Garnet locates the sealed eidolon at the base of the Iifia Tree. Unfortunately, Garnet realizes the eidolon is Leviathan, who as a sea serpent can do shit against a crazed maniac flying on top of a dragon.

You wouldn't have this problem if you had the Knights of the Round Summon.
You wouldn't have this problem if you had the Knights of the Round Summon.

Tired of her fleet’s insufficient progress the queen decides to summon Bahamut on Kuja. While the scene that ensues is visually stunning it is almost ruined by Kuja’s shitty affectations. At one point we watch Kuja subject us to the terribly off-putting “how impressive, you drew my blood” evil villain trope. Once again, I honestly wish I was lying about this:

I suspect this game may have been written using Cliff Notes.
I suspect this game may have been written using Cliff Notes.

Part 74: Everything Goes BOOM, And Then Disc Two Is Over

Once Kuja is done with his flamboyant posturing he immediately summons the giant ominous eye in the sky we have seen earlier. Using this eye to gain control over Bahamut Kuja immediately uses the dragon to subject massive destruction on the queen and her fleet. With the climactic destruction complete the game smash cuts to black, and eventually to narration done by Vivi. Vivi not only narrates his hatred for Queen Brahne, but also an inability to feel anything amidst all this death and destruction. The emptiness Vivi indicates is an emptiness any one of us could relate to. Even if something you abjectly disliked was destroyed there still is the need to rebuild and recover from that hatred. The moment here is a friendly reminder death rarely should be embraced with open arms.

I usually just feel empty inside when I eat Taco Bell for dinner.
I usually just feel empty inside when I eat Taco Bell for dinner.

Had the game ended on this note I would have applauded it unequivocally. However, the game decides to poison the well by providing Queen Brahne with a redemptive arc in the last three minutes of disc two.

There honestly are not enough wet fart sound effects I could make to accurately depict how I feel about this scene.
There honestly are not enough wet fart sound effects I could make to accurately depict how I feel about this scene.

It’s almost as if the game continues to ignore the elephant in the room, but is cognizant of the fact that there is indeed a GIANT ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM! I know I am guilty of “back seat writing” on this blog series, but here I simply must insist. The story has done NOTHING to develop the queen as anything more than a comical mustache twirling villain you could find in a 1960s era Disney film. This type of villain does not warrant a redemptive story arc! This is especially the case if the corrupting factor for the villain wasn’t entirely clear to the audience. How am I supposed to empathize with someone who is not only guilty of war crimes but committed those war crimes with a sadistic sense of pleasure? What even caused the queen to be broken from her stupor? Why is any of this happening? So it goes without saying this scene does not work even at a superficial level.

I would like to once again ask why we do not see more examples of this groundbreaking technology in FFIX.
I would like to once again ask why we do not see more examples of this groundbreaking technology in FFIX.

With that I appear done with disc two, and to be honest I have no idea how to feel. On one hand, the game has begun to embrace its colorful cast of characters, and has provided them with some truly memorable moments I will cherish for the rest of my life. Simultaneously, the game sabotages this goodwill time and time again with inanity and fluff. Disc two, and Final Fantasy IX in general features some of the worst “economy of action” I have ever seen in a video game. The disc starts with Steiner ferreting Garnet in a bag of pickles and ends with Garnet making amends with her dying mother. While this is certainly an improvement upon disc one, I cannot help but remind myself of how frustrated this game has made me feel, while simultaneously enthralling me with its humanity. There exists fifteen mainline story set pieces on disc two of Final Fantasy IX. Only around half of these tableaus are successful in honoring the mood and tone which benefits Final Fantasy IX the most.

If anything, Final Fantasy IX works best when it breaks away from the mold which defined the franchise for years prior. When the game seeks out opportunities to improve upon the mistakes of the past it truly shines and stands as a testament to video game storytelling. When it devolves into comical fan service I have a burning passion to punching people in the face. And trust me, I have wanted to punch a bunch of people in the face while playing this game.

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Fighting Final Fantasy IX Part 50-61: Help! I Think I'm Playing The "Wrong" Final Fantasy Game in 2016!

Part 50: Honoring Tragedy With NOTHING!

At the conclusion of our last meeting, we witnessed the destruction of both the Burmecian and Cleyran civilizations. The horror was both visually striking and emotionally resonant. To depict the efforts of our party as being mostly in vain is a daring and respectable exercise on the part of Final Fantasy IX’s writing staff. What is less than commendable is how the succeeding scenes in the game play out. Just as the characters begin to grapple this senseless act of genocide the characters are on the deck of the Queen’s ship, and things play out like a Saturday morning cartoon. There they conveniently hide under a flight of stairs which allows them to overhear Beatrix openly question the decision making of the queen. Following this lead, our party ferrets their way to Queen Brahne who announces her intention to execute Garnet upon her return to Alexandria.

All in all you're just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.

If you have not already noticed, I am a stickler for tonal consistency in the narratives that I end up experiencing. I’m the old school wrestling mark, or hard science fiction elitist, who demands a certain structure or format to whatever I watch or play. Now admittedly I am a hypocrite from time to time, but for the most part, I am relatively consistent about maintaining that perspective. If a narrative must subject me to an action set piece, I am not above judging it by the merits of its spectacle. After the destruction of Cleyra much of Final Fantasy IX comes across as a spectacle like a Christopher Nolan film. The set pieces and scenarios are beyond superficial, but once you “accept” the spectacle you are in for a visually stunning affair that will not cease to amaze you.

This is the case here. The story has provided its characters with a focus point, save the princess from the evil queen, and what ensues latter is a raucous time. That said, I cannot help but feel like there’s this unshakable sense of artificiality. The economy of action is poorly spaced out, and the characterization feels uneven. Worse yet, once we exit Alexandria the characterization for two of our party members ceases to exist entirely. This leaves us in the dark as to how or why their perspectives morph over the course of the story, and this would have been a welcomed addition to the game. The characters that we do have the honor of watching change suddenly, and oftentimes only do so for the sake of the plot. Take for example Beatrix, whose sworn duty is to protect Alexandria at all cost. Her secondary duty, to protect Princess Garnet, only becomes a factor when the game wants it to. After the queen announces her intent to execute the princess Beatrix stands idly by as if nothing happened. Flash forward to Alexandria, and it appears she has awakened from her stupor, and realizes that murdering Garnet is a bad thing to do. Doesn’t anyone notice this, because I feel like I’m taking crazy pills?

This certainly is the best time to act like a child, Beatrix. Here's your medal for murdering thousands.
This certainly is the best time to act like a child, Beatrix. Here's your medal for murdering thousands.

The action also plays out in the most generic and prototypical manner possible. The characters, which are among the most wanted in the kingdom of Alexandria, are somehow able to get within a hair's breadth of the evil queen, and somehow DON’T decide to storm the deck and try to kill her. SHE HAS BEEN RESPONSIBLE FOR ORDERING THE MASSACRE OF TWO CIVILIZATIONS! WHY ARE WE NOT KILLING HER TO PREVENT FURTHER WAR CRIMES?!?! And how the FUCK did they not get caught sneaking up behind the queen in the first place? What is this, a Looney Tunes cartoon? Oh, and it turns out that the airship we are in uses a teleportation system that can send us immediately back to Alexandria! Why do we NEVER see this technology in any part of this world ever again?

No really, WHY ISN'T EVERYONE USING THIS TELEPORTATION SYSTEM?!
No really, WHY ISN'T EVERYONE USING THIS TELEPORTATION SYSTEM?!

However, this is all nitpicking for entertainment purposes. My real issue regarding Final Fantasy IX at this point is its narrative and mechanical structure. This is going to be a point I hammer home for the rest of this blog, but the game’s structure is unequivocally soul crushing. For the most part, I am entirely open minded to everything Final Fantasy IX attempts regarding its narrative. It is how the game transitions to its various story set pieces which will be the death of me.

Part 51: Oh Great! It’s A Timed Mission!

Eventually, we find ourselves in Alexandria but this time in control of Steiner and Marcus. Because you cannot spell “WASTED MY GODDAMNED TIME” without “pointless minigame,” we have to break them from their prison by swinging the cage they are in too and fro. Does anyone want to challenge my notion that the tone of the second disc is totally inconsistent? In one minute we are witnessing thousands of people being massacred, and in the next, we are playing a minigame with Steiner and Marcus.

At least this isn't snowboarding.
At least this isn't snowboarding.

The game’s exercise in mediocrity continues after Steiner manages to re-connect with Zidane. Upon doing so Zidane explains the situation to a skeptical Steiner and announces Queen Brahne’s arrival in thirty minutes. Honestly, if there’s one thing that gets my blood pumping it’s a timed mission.

How do you know that? Did you read the script?
How do you know that? Did you read the script?

Narratively the conceit behind this timed mission is understandable… but I still don’t like it. The player is ultimately thrust into a relatively new location and is expected to piece together what to do next. Throw in a few battles here and there and this gripping moment quickly becomes an exercise of one’s patience. To further compound my frustrations the queen’s palace has a multitude of rooms with multiple levels. It is possible that you, the player, decide to explore all the levels of an entire ward of the palace only to discover you are no closer to furthering the story than when you first started. This exact scenario happened to me TWICE.

So what exactly does the game want you to do? Well, I’m glad you asked because the answer is a bunch of random bullshit! First off, the game wants you to go to Garnet’s personal quarters, which might I add you have never been to nor know how to get to. There you have to locate the fireplace which was hiding a secret passageway to a torture dungeon near Garnet’s bed. I’m not lying about that last line:

It bears mentioning that this torture dungeon is BIGGER THAN GARNET’S ACTUAL ROOM!
It bears mentioning that this torture dungeon is BIGGER THAN GARNET’S ACTUAL ROOM!
Well apparently I’m trying to find a secret torture dungeon hidden next to a princess’s room.
Well apparently I’m trying to find a secret torture dungeon hidden next to a princess’s room.

You know what? Let me get back to you on that one. I’m going to go back to my parents’ house, and check out my old room. While there I’m going to knock on all the walls and closets to see if they have been hiding any torture dungeons behind my back. This shouldn’t take too long….

.

.

.

.

.

NOPE! THERE WAS NO SECRET TORTURE DUNGEON! SO I’M CALLING BULLSHIT ON THIS ENTIRE SCENARIO!

Part 52: Being By The Numbers, But With Charisma

After you reach the bowels of the torture dungeon the party immediately crosses paths with the doyennes of mediocrity, Zorn and Thorn. After the party dispatches Final Fantasy IX’s favorite B-tier villains the cast has a touching aside with Steiner. While there Steiner expresses total culpability for failing to properly protect Garnet, and the remaining cast members assure him that this is not the case. Zidane of all people refuses to chastise Steiner, and it is one of the better moments the two have. It is worth acknowledging that Steiner has treated Zidane with nothing but contempt for the entire game, and for Zidane to take the “high road” he is showing a great deal of maturity and character. You could even argue Steiner’s over emotional pleas and bellyaching are finally justified given the circumstances. It took the game twenty hours, but it has finally found a way to tie the character traits of the cast into the story without coming across as heavy-handed or pandering.

Huh... Steiner and Zidane suddenly became
Huh... Steiner and Zidane suddenly became "interesting" characters. Who would have guessed it?

Now there is one issue I want to bring up before moving on. Beatrix’s “face turn” does not work for me even at a superficial level. First, Beatrix’s characterization is seriously lacking, but the game still adds her to the party anyways. Lacking any form of substantive context Beatrix’s turn comes across as an event for the convenience of the plot. Time and time again Beatrix firmly established her unabashed loyalty to the country of Alexandria. So why is she only now ceasing to abide by such two-dimensional moralities? The queen declared her intent to execute Garnet on the airship, so why is Beatrix only now piecing together that the queen might be a wee bit insane? On a more fundamental level, I find Beatrix’s inclusion to the main cast to be beyond problematic. I say this on account of Beatrix being guilty of multiple counts of war crimes. Lacking any proper redress it appears as if the game wants the player to completely forget the destruction of Cleyra for the sake of Beatrix and Steiner “hooking up.”

WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU FUCKING TALKING ABOUT?! YOU WERE RIGHT THERE WHEN SHE SAID THAT!
WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU FUCKING TALKING ABOUT?! YOU WERE RIGHT THERE WHEN SHE SAID THAT!

For goodness' sake, the first direct interaction Zidane has with Beatrix involves her boasting having killed thousands of soldiers with her own hands. Whether you believe Beatrix is “interesting” in how she will relate to Steiner is one thing, but you cannot look back on what we witnessed at Burmecia and tell me her hands are clean. I understand during times of war everyone loses a bit of their humanity, but that’s an excuse and nothing more. At no point do we witness Beatrix in turmoil over her conduct at Burmecia and Cleyra, and what little turmoil we do see is far from sufficient. It is as if the scope of those scenes is being applied selectively, and in turn weakens the message and impact of those scenes. Lacking any ethos, Beatrix’s inclusion is simply irresponsible on the part of the writing.

This quibble aside the breezy storytelling is what manages to motivate me to continue playing Final Fantasy IX. All my points prevent the storytelling from being entirely successful, but it is far from being crippled beyond repair. The race to transport Garnet out of Alexandria is another example of the game providing an interesting “spectacle” that works once you turn off the logic centers of your brain. There’s also a true sense of stakes as you attempt to accomplish your mission swiftly, and it bears mentioning how this is done so without the inclusion of a timer. Steiner's decision to remain at Alexandria and the succeeding scenes feel far more impactful than their actual mechanical execution. When you stop and think about it, the return to Treno is mechanically ho-hum, but it is the pacing and storytelling that elevates the scene beyond its superficial patchwork.

A patchwork that also includes fighting poodles with Beatrix.
A patchwork that also includes fighting poodles with Beatrix.

Part 53: Who Thought It Was A Good Idea To Put A “Tutorial Level” On Disc Two?

Now let’s talk about that superficial patchwork because the next two set pieces are a BUNCH OF BULLCRAP! Admittedly, the narrative starts off on a good note. Zidane appears to finally engage in a screed with Garnet without being the sexist ass that he normally is. Indeed, I would argue a vast majority of Zidane’s dialogue, before the party reaches Pinnacle Rock that is, depicts the level of humanity and maturity that I have been begging the game to provide his character.

One of the most impressive
One of the most impressive "spells" in Final Fantasy IX is Zidane magically losing the ability to talk to Garnet respectfully

Then Final Fantasy IX realizes it is a video game. The problem here is the “video game” portions for the next four to five hours are unbelievably contrived. The most notable example of this is Pinnacle Rock, which happens to be Final Fantasy IX’s tutorial level for its summoning system. Here we are cursed with mountains of expositional text which does NOTHING to progress the story. At Pinnacle Rock our party is graced by the mystical Ramuh who wishes for the party to prove their mettle before he joins them. What the game subjects you to next is a glorified version of hide-and-seek. That is honestly what happened… this is what my life has come to. Hide-and-MOTHERFUCKING-SEEK!

This drivel even starts with
This drivel even starts with"Once upon a time..." This is a true Sisyphean torment.

You mean to honestly tell me there was no alternative way to convey this information to the audience? Running around in circles, trying to find this random bozo, is the best way to introduce the summoning system? Am I to assume the developers were ignorant of better alternatives to this inane bullshit? Otherwise, we can only assume that the developers got lazy and threw in this slapdash bullshit mission because they did not give a fuck. I do not know which is worse. That the developers suddenly became incompetent, or they gave zero fucks about entertaining their audience. You tell me!

Every encounter you have with Ramuh results in the game subjecting you to pages of expositional text that convey an Aesopian parable. This is when I became especially cross with Final Fantasy IX. Here we have a game that utilizes a novel system that subjects the audience to fully animated cut scenes where we can discover whatever the Hell the secondary cast had for dinner. Be that as it may, the moment the game wishes to afflict me with a legend or parable it decides to have me read pages from a book. Where is the fucking justice in that?

The shit in Twinkies is better filler than this!
The shit in Twinkies is better filler than this!

It bears mentioning how nostalgic Final Fantasy fans get more out of Pinnacle Rock than a naive bum like myself. The parable happens to be a recollection of the events of Final Fantasy II. Either that makes this whole scene pleasurable “fan service,” or it continues being excruciating filler, and I think you all know where I stand. What if instead of shamelessly referencing events from a previous game in the Final Fantasy franchise Ramuh asked us to recall a famous tale or parable from the world of Final Fantasy IX? This tale would be a story practically unavoidable in the game, and our ability to recall it surely guaranteed. This would reward the player having paid attention to the story, and incentives them to continue doing so.

As I always say, it’s not all doom and gloom in the world of Final Fantasy IX. There is a brief interjection where we are transported back to Alexandria, and learn the queen has employed a couple of mercenaries to track and defeat our party. This scene further establishes how the queen is becoming more entrenched into her madness. However, once again I have to question to what end. Is it greed, or an insatiable desire for worldly riches? Is the queen afflicted with a dire sense of paranoia? The audience is still unsure, but that notwithstanding praise should be directed to the game for taking the time to foreshadow events in a clear and cohesive manner.

Part 54: Amazingly Poignant But Superficial Destruction

Also, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS? It looks like something from a Terry Gilliam animated short.
Also, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS? It looks like something from a Terry Gilliam animated short.

I understand this title may incense some of my readers, but hear me out before leveling your inflammatory rebukes. From a purely functionalist perspective, the destruction of Lindblum works. From a literary and holistic perspective, the scene works in the grand scheme of things but is lacking in one major regard. Both estimates are correct, and in my book are “non-overlapping magisteria.

First and foremost, walking through the ruined streets of Lindblum is without a doubt one of the game’s most powerful and poignant moments. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again; the fact that Final Fantasy IX takes the time to depict brazen acts of total war, and what the repercussions of those acts of total war are, is beyond commendable. So often in video games we witness bombs being dropped without any regard as to whom the recipient of that payload may be. Final Fantasy IX takes the time to depict the sheer depravity of war, and most importantly, does so with a gray sense of morals. Your initial interaction with the citizenry of Lindblum results in Zidane trying to discourage the citizens from caving in the skull of a black mage. Are the citizens wrong in wanting to destroy the source of their hardship? Is Zidane wrong in saying that destroying this Black Mage will solve nothing? The game poses moral quandaries such as this for the audience to mull over without subjecting them to an arbitrary dialogue tree.

Shit gets dark in Final Fantasy IX real... REAL quick.
Shit gets dark in Final Fantasy IX real... REAL quick.

Lindblum was the most “alive” location in the entire game, and all its NPCs felt like they were more than your standard pointless dialogue repositories. To see many of these NPCs missing or maimed further highlighted the tragedy that Lindblum had been subjected to. Walking through the ruins was honestly one of the few times when I felt genuinely motivated to interact with every possible NPC in the environment. As a result of doing so, my heart skipped a beat for every interaction I had. It is the small touches here and there that add to the poignancy of the set piece. On one occasion I happened to encounter an elderly woman, and lo and behold, this was the result of the interaction:

Wow, I have no words other than praise for moments like these.
Wow, I have no words other than praise for moments like these.

This shows how the writing behind Final Fantasy IX has an attention to detail. All the game’s worlds and characters morph over the course of time and play some role in furthering the story. Unlike most video games, once Final Fantasy IX’s story is “done” with a location it does not remain in stasis and stuck in an uncanny purgatory. Continents and cities can be revisited and you are all but assured your second visits will reveal changed and warped landscapes alien from the autochthonous one. There’s a clear sense of scale as your adventure in the game unfurls, and it is a journey that draws more than the immediate cast into its tendrils. So when I decided to revisit the synthesis shop only to discover the master of the shop was gone, and the shop’s kiln has dimmed, I was shocked. Moments like these work wonders for the narrative and to be honest are far better than anything attempted with 70% of the cast.

All the same, I cannot help but comment on how “empty” all this death and destruction comes across as. Without a clear sense as to why the queen feels motivated to take over Lindblum the leveling of the city ultimately feels like a moment that exists for the sake of it. Final Fantasy IX certainly takes the time to elevate the brazen razing of Lindblum from complete superficiality, but there is no denying the game’s proverbial “elephant in the room.” Lacking a clear villain with a cohesive purpose means everything we witness the villain doing is done so in service of establishing that they are evil and nothing more. Queen Brahne is no better than the mustache twirling villains that your middle school English teacher implored you to avoid writing in your quarterly unit on creative writing.

So instead Final Fantasy IX elects to toss in new villains hoping to fill that void.
So instead Final Fantasy IX elects to toss in new villains hoping to fill that void.

Given how masterful the rest of the narrative is it is downright baffling how underdeveloped Final Fantasy IX’s initial antagonist is. When you stop and think about it Final Fantasy IX’s narrative is built upon a shoddy and haphazard scaffold. For all intents and purposes, it has yet to collapse, but that doesn’t mean it is spectacularly built in the first place. But you understand what the game is trying to build, and if it pulls it off it would be a video game “World Wonder.” Essentially have to trust the game it will indeed honor your time and patience.

Part 55: Fossil Roo Is The Worst

Someone at Square Enix needs to be punched in the face for allowing this entire sequence to be included in Final Fantasy IX. What makes this whole affair especially disappointing is how marvelous the narrative scaffold is leading up to Fossil Roo. The game manages to foreshadow an impending invasion by Alexandria against an unknown force; frame Garnet as emotionally compromised after witnessing the destruction committed by her kingdom; and Zidane as a sensitive but still chivalrous lad. As you can hopefully see, everything related to the narrative works, but it is the gameplay that seriously drops the ball.

Can I just have more moments like these instead of puzzle dungeons?
Can I just have more moments like these instead of puzzle dungeons?

A truly praiseworthy aspect of Final Fantasy IX is its use of relationships in favor of romances. The barbs and dialogue Zidane and Garnet trade as they mosey on out of Lindblum are among the best the game has provided yet. Zidane clearly has a sense of romantic infatuation towards Garnet, but this is not spelled out to the audience in a painfully obvious manner. Instead, the two characters talk as allies with a common goal without an ounce of malice or cynicism. It’s almost as if the writers understood how romances start in the first place.

Clearly, the developers understand how to create believable characters and experiences. What I am less confident about is their ability to design compelling gameplay. This segue leads us to Fossil Roo! Now why the developers felt the need to include a switch puzzle dungeon is beyond my comprehension. Rest assured, the shit storm torment we are about to subject ourselves to is a slow moving disaster. First, we are forced to re-add the BLIGHT known as Quina to our party, and Quina’s tone ruining nature is in full effect.

GOD IS DEAD!
GOD IS DEAD!

At the dungeon, we are immediately thrust into a battle with Apollo’s purple space chariot. I… I have no words.

I'm always happy to include pictures on this blog which will haunt your dreams forever.
I'm always happy to include pictures on this blog which will haunt your dreams forever.

Remember the asshole robot spider from the Dollet invasion scene from Final Fantasy VIII? That’s exactly what we are dealing with here. Your party is meant to run away from Apollo’s evil chariot of death rather than defeating it outright. Littered on your path are a ton of environmental hazards which can quickly impede your progress and force you into a confrontation with the purple space chariot. Okay… that’s less than “great,” but at least the confrontation is quickly alleviated once you reach a certain point. It’s not like the game subjects you to another boss battle immediately after this bullshit. Wait a minute….

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!

So with our BULLSHIT LEVELS at an all-time high, we make our way to the proper Fossil Roo dungeon… and this is where Final Fantasy IX broke my “spirit.” At Fossil Roo you are afflicted with one of the most asinine switch puzzles in video game history. To add insult to injury the random encounters at Fossil Roo pop-off at an all time high, and feature a plethora of groan-inducing baddies. That latter point is one of my least favorite aspects of this entire experience. Normally when the game subjects you to an environmental puzzle the random encounters are disabled or at least minimized. Here the random encounter rate seems to dole out every four or five steps.

Then there’s the actual puzzle! After reaching the bowels of Fossil Roo you discover the Gargan transportation system in disarray. Gargans seem afraid of water and using switches that control streams of water allow you to progress to the next location. My issue here stems from the game’s insufficient direction. Do you have any idea if you are getting closer or further away from your intended direction? NOPE! Do the miners at Fossil Roo provide any form of helpful guidance? NOPE! Is there a clear and explicit map to assist you in your journey?

NOPE! NOPE! NOPE! I MEAN LOOK AT THIS SHIT!
NOPE! NOPE! NOPE! I MEAN LOOK AT THIS SHIT!

Why do puzzles in JRPGs have to be the shits? I MEAN THE ABSOLUTE SHITS! There’s nothing to parse out from the environment, no foreign language to translate, and no logic to draw from previous scenes. Once again a Final Fantasy game is stricken with an environmental puzzle best solved using brute force. ALSO, WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH THE MUSIC?

The monotony of this musical track drove me insane. It is almost as if the track is taunting me. As the melody circles and continues its guttural grunts it’s almost as if the game is chanting “you’re stuck, you’re stuck, you’re fucking stuck!” When you finally do manage to slog your way to the end it feels like an honest to goodness accomplishment, but one where you do not feel better having done so.

Part 56: Conde Petie Is Beyond Problematic

After subjecting yourself to Fossil Roo it is time to enjoy the moribund mediocrity that is Conde Petie. As a transitional set piece for the excellent story revelations related to Vivi, Conde Petie is passable. The issue with Conde Petie is well… everything else. The tone, characters, and narrative additions that the location provides are just terrible. The dwarves and their comical soliloquies are just a bizarre juxtaposition from the poignancy of Zidane and Garnet’s previous asides. To make matters worse the writers decided to regress every bit of character development regarding Zidane in favor of having him return to his objectionable sexism. Every one of Zidane’s interactions with Garnet at Conde Petie felt like a grotesque flip-flop from what he had conveyed earlier. Now, why is that you may ask? Why that is because the writers decided the game needed a comical set piece out of nowhere.

Way to be culturally dismissive the moment we enter a new city Zidane!
Way to be culturally dismissive the moment we enter a new city Zidane!

There’s also something objectively reprehensible about using an accent to depict a technologically and socially inferior society. The dwarves all speak in a pseudo-Scottish accent, and this accent is used to imply an inherent inferiority between them and the “normal” civilizations we have seen earlier. Why does the game decide to use this accent in the first place? Because whoever translated this game thought that Scottish accents equal humor! Not only that but the translation of the dwarves’ dialogue is simply atrocious. The translation feels as if it was created by someone who watched fifteen minutes of Trainspotting and used that as a reference guide for an entire scene.

If there’s something about Final Fantasy IX that I am becoming tired of it’s the game’s tendency to thrust the player into a new environment, and expecting the player to piece together what they need to do next. Yes, the ATEs are used to foreshadow and hint at what the players’ intended duties are, but these goals are expressed in the most tenuous manner possible. Like so many locations before it, after we enter the gates of Conde Petie the player navigates the byzantine streets of the new location in hopes of tracking down your accompanying party members. All I would like to question is if this is the best course of action for the game.

I would like to once again mention how discomforting the translation is at Conde Petie
I would like to once again mention how discomforting the translation is at Conde Petie

The game has employed this exact structure a dozen times. It’s the game design equivalent of the “path of least resistance,” but it sure does not lend itself to the most exciting introductions of new locals. Placing the burden of discovering the worth of any new location on the player is something I personally view as poor game design. It is very much possible that interesting tidbits about the world I am interacting with can be missed. Final Fantasy IX provides its player with no notification of this possibility, nor does it front load the possibility of revisiting previous locations to its audience. Did any of you know that you could visit the town of Dali in between the game’s story moments to view it undergoing different phases of economic booms and busts? For a game that clearly values worldbuilding, it concealing entire bits of worldbuilding from its audience seems entirely counter-intuitive.

But whatever, at least everything related to Vivi is good. At Conde Petie, Vivi encounters a Black Mage interacting with one of the Dwarves without any hostility from either side. Wishing to explore the situation further, Vivi chases after the black mage only to watch it scamper from the city before he can inquire it further. Because the game has already done a wonderful job in building my sympathy towards Vivi I am willing to assist him in his “side-quest.” It’s almost as if the game recognized that assisting Vivi would come across as only being tangentially related to the main plot, so the writers endeavored to create a compelling story to motivate the player to feel it was worth their time. It’s as if the magic of storytelling is in full force!

Can you use your magic to remove all the
Can you use your magic to remove all the "filler" from the story?

Part 57: Everything That Occurs In The Black Mage Village Is Fantastic

As I hope I have made entirely clear, I see the value of every section in Disc Two. Well, except for Fossil Roo but that level can go fuck itself. My qualms stem from how the game bridges the gap with its mechanics between all these set pieces. All the game’s interesting story moments are patched together either using benign fetch quests, or unmeritorious puzzles. Considering the compelling nature of the main story, and equally interesting character arcs, I have to believe the men and women behind this game were capable of something greater.

You know what Garnet? Your whole
You know what Garnet? Your whole "deal" doesn't make a lick of sense either.

I say this with a great deal of confidence given the rather excellent time you have at the Black Mage Village. Certainly, I could bellyache about the long and convoluted process to reach the village, but as long as the ultimate payoff is worth it then I’m willing to wade through whatever bullcrap the game levies my way. Here, the story manages to weave a compelling tale about the fragility of life and the importance of making the most of your time. Better yet, the game wraps this revelation around the most sympathetic character in the entire game, Vivi, which ends up heightening the emotional impact.

As we enter the infantile Black Mage Village, where the buildings are shaped in the form of various faces and living creatures, Vivi can interact with other members of his “race.” We discover the village is populated by black mage drones which broke free of Kuja’s spell. Lacking any exposure to society, beyond the destruction they have inflicted on the outer world, the black mages are of a third or fourth-grade intellect. This character trope dangerously errs towards the fallacious “noble savage” archetype, but lo and behold, the game makes it work. The Black Mage Village ends up being a scaffold towards more mature and adult narrative themes. I say this because the first scene we witness with Vivi involves him interacting with the village leader at the Black Mage cemetery. There the game ends up sinking its narrative fangs into your precious heartstrings.

If only every character was provided as much characterization as Vivi.
If only every character was provided as much characterization as Vivi.

The Black Mage Village even justifies Garnet’s normal “fish out of water” character arc as she attempts to convince the villagers that she comes to their village with no intent of harm or malice. The extreme skepticism of the black mages is entirely understandable, and Garnet’s emotional pleas feel honest. For all intents and purposes, the game provides a location where the characters can shine beyond their intrinsic tropes. I would argue all the characters, besides Quina, shine at the Black Mage Village. When Final Fantasy IX’s moral compass finally calibrates itself and makes itself nakedly transparent to the audience the game’s superficial mechanics become a secondary and forgettable issue. That, if anything else, is beyond commendable.

Part 58: What The Fuck… Zidane Becomes An Interesting Character

No seriously, what the fuck is even happening? Am I still playing Final Fantasy IX?
No seriously, what the fuck is even happening? Am I still playing Final Fantasy IX?

Exhausted, our party decides to retire for the night. After commandeering a bunk bed Zidane and Garnet have what I can only describe to be their best character moment thus far. Once again, Final Fantasy IX’s character moments are best when attempting to build relationships, rather than romances, as this aside comes across as an emotional appeal without a carnal subtext. As such, it successfully builds our sympathy towards both Zidane and Garnet.

Charles Dickens would have LOVED Final Fantasy IX.
Charles Dickens would have LOVED Final Fantasy IX.

As our duo slowly descends into a slumber Zidane imparts a parable of a child attempting to find his home, and it is clear to the audience the child in the story is himself. That notwithstanding, the tale Zidane weaves is the most fascinating his character has been since we first crossed paths with him on the Prima Vista. As Zidane imparts his life experiences he exposes his vulnerabilities to both the audience and Garnet. In doing so we learn of Zidane’s life as an orphan, and failure to learn about who or what he is. The entire scene does a fantastic job of reframing him as a human.

This provides the audience with context as to Zidane’s earlier swashbuckler behavior. Lacking any normal moral compass, Zidane was effectively raised by the abusive and intolerant Baku. Skeptical of my accusation that Baku was an abusive father and Zidane in effect was an abuse victim? Well, I think the game spells things out to the audience in a tasteful and proper manner:

Bravo to the game for attempting to depict this respectfully.
Bravo to the game for attempting to depict this respectfully.

I’m a sucker for a story providing a moral backbone or context to its characters. It’s a damn shame the succeeding scene after this DOES NOTHING TO BUILD UPON THIS! The touching moment here is immediately complimented with Zidane devolving back to his unwanted sexual advances on Garnet. Rather than building upon Zidane having this innate desire to learn more about himself; he instead goes back to teasing and harassing Garnet. What happened to his humanity? Where’s his sympathetic characterization? Was this entire scene developed in isolation from the rest of the story? Will the “REAL” Zidane please stand up?

Part 59: Vivi Is The Greatest Character In The Entire Game

But hey, at least Vivi is here to wash away all my griping!
But hey, at least Vivi is here to wash away all my griping!

I have nothing to directly chastise Vivi with. Vivi is after all Final Fantasy IX’s greatest vicarious vessel into the game’s multifaceted and livable world. Vivi’s troubles are a believable worry that all of us will be forced to confront at some point in our lives, we just end up confronting our mortality at different times. In the schema of Final Fantasy IX Vivi ends up becoming the game’s jumping point to its more mature and heavier themes.

After Garnet and Zidane have their moment together we transition back to Vivi next to the Black Mage leader. There the leader reveals how the average lifespan of their race is approximately a year. Vivi, in turn, connects the dots and can deduce his time is far less than that. What ensues next is Final Fantasy IX’s most poignant moment yet. Dazed by the information he has been presented with Vivi asks the village leader how he feels, and his confusion ends up coming across as the most “human” I have ever seen a video game character act.

Could you teach 80% of the main cast what
Could you teach 80% of the main cast what "humility" means?
Why do you have to be a video game character? Can I bottle you up and carry you with me for the rest of my life?
Why do you have to be a video game character? Can I bottle you up and carry you with me for the rest of my life?

The game manages to take these automatons, which lack many of the characteristics we associate with normal human beings and makes them the most “real” characters in the entire game. Vivi is forced to recognize his limited lifespan but manages to confront his mortality with grace and respectability. This will provide a direct contrast to another character who ends up confronting his mortality but does so incorrectly. The scene has gravitas, but it also ends up underscoring why Vivi needs to be a part of this journey. As the cold abyss of death eventually consumes him, Vivi remains as alive as he could hope to be while on this journey. More importantly, Vivi is a force for the greatest possible good he could ever hope for. If you knew your time was seriously limited, wouldn’t you wish to commit yourself to the greatest amount of good before your passing? I hope we would answer that question with an unequivocal “yes.”

Life is such a fragile thing, and Final Fantasy IX is as respectful about that fragility anyone could hope the game to be. I know being emotionally attached to Vivi will only lead to heartbreak. This anguish is something tangible and real. However, it is from this anguish that I myself feel a greater appreciation for my own humanity, and the social network I have surrounded myself around. It’s baffling to admit this, but Final Fantasy IX is a game that resulted in me stopping and thinking about my own legacy and place in the world. As inane as that may come across, and I know this is meant to be a blog for entertainment purposes, but few games cause me to do this. It is just another highlight of how special Final Fantasy IX can be when it fully commits to its own humanity rather than its sillier aspects.

Okay FINE! You were all right that I would fall in love with Vivi!
Okay FINE! You were all right that I would fall in love with Vivi!

Part 60: Returning To Conde Petie, And Wishing To Set Zidane On Fire

This is the only
This is the only "good" line of dialogue you see in Conde Petie.

So we just subjected ourselves to an emotional plea on the part of the game to make the most out our limited time. What could the game possibly do to complement such narrative poignancy? Why how about some sexist bullshit! I WISH I WAS FUCKING KIDDING YOU!

Okay… so let’s break down the literal aspects of our return to Conde Petie before I blow an emotional gasket. Eventually the party recollects itself and we discover our next location is the mysterious “Sanctuary.” After inquiring the local denizens of Conde Petie we discover the Sanctuary can only be accessed by those wedded to a companion. What ensues next is the most objectively terrible moment in the entire game.

I am willing to accept Garnet and Zidane needing to undergo a ceremony that betrothed each other into a superficial marriage. What I am NOT willing to accept are the snide ass barbs Zidane directs at Garnet throughout the wedding scene. Shit like this, IS NOT OKAY:

Thank you so much for ruining something beautiful.
Thank you so much for ruining something beautiful.

Or how about bullshit like THIS:

YUP! That's it, I am officially going to set Zidane on fire!
YUP! That's it, I am officially going to set Zidane on fire!

Good GOD! I feel like my lungs are collapsing. I feel as if I have aged twenty-five years just from reviewing these screencaps all over again. I’m honestly contemplating setting the world on fire because of stuff like this:

Pbpbpbpbppbpbpbpbppbpbpbpbppbpbpbpbppbpbpbpbppbpbpbpbppbpbpbpbp!
Pbpbpbpbppbpbpbpbppbpbpbpbppbpbpbpbppbpbpbpbppbpbpbpbppbpbpbpbp!

Who fucking allowed this to happen? Who thought this was a good idea? How do we go from confronting our mortality, to having wacky romantic adventures with Garnet and Zidane? Can we also talk about how culturally dismissive the characters are regarding the religious practices of the dwarves? Here they are, having created this marriage ceremony that does not discriminate on race or sexual orientation, and all the characters just dismiss it as an end to justify a mean. There’s no introspection; instead, it is the objectification of a culture for comedic purposes. Did I also mention how for the next hour we have to essentially listen to Zidane talk about Garnet as if she is an object he now controls?

Stop, stop, I confess!
Stop, stop, I confess!

Can I just declare this to be a complete waste of my time and move on? Can I also mention how we are on this quest to stop a maniacal queen, but here we are getting married? Can I highlight that while this wedding scene plays out Final Fantasy IX still has “gaps” in its fossil record? Can I ask if my anaphora is articulating my point? Despite the game doing its utmost to establish Queen Brahne as the current villain, we still lack any clear understanding why she’s doing all this global conquest. No seriously, why is anything in this game happening? Why aren’t there any ATEs set in Alexandria? What the fuck is happening to Steiner, Freya, and Beatrix?

Convincing Vivi and Quina to marry didn't fill the emptiness I feel right now.
Convincing Vivi and Quina to marry didn't fill the emptiness I feel right now.

Part 61: Someone Please Save Me From This Torment!

Fuck… I don’t even know where to start. I want any of you who like this game to honestly justify these abrupt thematic shifts. I can’t, but simultaneously, I am entirely powerless to outright declare this game a total failure. This game is a mess, but it is an emotionally taut and beautiful mess. I have slowly reached the conclusion that I love half of Final Fantasy IX, but despise the other half. So, in the end, what am I to make of this game?

Every step of the way, and for every minute I sink into Final Fantasy IX, it does something to draw me back. Either a location draws me into its tragedy, or the characters depict a level of humanity few games are willing to endeavor to depict. Then as I finally start to get cozy with the game it immediately compliments my goodwill with a depraved act of pure idiocy. These transitions are the true affliction facing the game, not the small nitpicking that I am innervated to do. There’s no structure or logic to its format other than to patch together a series of compelling scenes and characters. These characters and their moments deserve more than switch puzzles, abhorrent sexism, and comical joshing about. They all deserve a platform to assert a pathos, logos, and ethos which would highlight the multi-ethnic and livable world the game so earnestly wishes to impart on the audience.

In the end, the world and characters of Final Fantasy IX deserve so much more than what is provided in the game. However, as I say this I know the characters will stand above their superficial backdrop. If there is one thing I have to honestly concede it is the characters have become better. They have begun to metamorphosed, and some are even adults despite their appearances. At least the cast is not afflicted with a child character whose drivel adds in more inanity than you could shake a stick at.

Can I play the Final Fantasy that has dudes chilling in a car for four hours?
Can I play the Final Fantasy that has dudes chilling in a car for four hours?

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Fighting Final Fantasy IX - Parts 38-49: Will The "Real" Final Fantasy IX Please Stand Up?

Episode Guide

  1. Episode #1 (Parts 1-13)
  2. Episode #2 (Parts 14-26)
  3. Episode #3 (Parts 27-37)

Part 38: Oh God… Why Is This Happening?

We ended our previous episode with the primary cast at its lowest point. Zidane and company were defeated with relative ease in their tussle against Beatrix. The narrative finally injected some much-needed grit to the otherwise saccharine story of Final Fantasy IX and developed a clear sense of “stakes.” Players finally have a visual image of the consequences of Zidane’s swashbuckling ways. With the game having established our party as unprepared for their quest, what could it possibly do to complement such a dower tone?

This has to be a Monty Python joke. I'm not crazy for thinking that, right?
This has to be a Monty Python joke. I'm not crazy for thinking that, right?

I know… I know. I have honestly been bellyaching about transitions and juxtapositions in the Final Fantasy franchise for the past year, and it has gotten me nowhere. As I suggested in my previous episode, the “ebbs” and “flows” of Final Fantasy IX are not even the worst I have seen in the Final Fantasy franchise or the entire JRPG genre. These ebbs and flows exist, and I am a stubborn man dead set in honoring my old ways of thinking. Even if I’m stuck in this existential crisis of shouting at a game that was developed over a decade ago it is something I need to do. It’s an admittedly cathartic practice I have grown fond of.

Let’s start out by assessing Garnet and Steiner’s “moment” at Summit Station with no regard for what preceded it. Garnet and Steiner are heading back to Alexandria to accomplish something via means we are never made clear of even AFTER they reach Alexandria. There’s this tenuous suggestion that Garnet wishes to convince her mother to see the ills of her ways, but the hows and whys are left ambiguous. The “how” in this case would be how Garnet plans on convincing her mother to “right her own ship.” The “why” would pertain to why Garnet feels so confident she can accomplish this. Lacking this clarifying information, the plot feels as if it is playing out for the sake of it. Characters meet up because they have to, and the direction of the adventure plays out as pedantically as you could imagine in a fifty-hour epic.

YES! Yes I am! I WAS THE VILLAIN ALL ALONG!
YES! Yes I am! I WAS THE VILLAIN ALL ALONG!

Garnet has lived with her mother for countless hours. Why does she NOW feel convinced that she can accomplish what she has failed to do before? How does she plan on approaching this cataclysmic issue from a new perspective? What is Garnet’s new perspective if she has one? Why is she so confident in her abilities to prevent untold death and destruction? The game’s justification for all of these looming issues is to characterize Garnet as being “naïve.” Now many of you have expressed that this is a sufficient enough justification for what we are about to be subjected to for the next four hours. I agree with this sentiment mostly, but there is one pressing qualm I have with this.

THIS IS FUCKING LAAAAAAAAAAAAAZY STORYTELLING!

There is nothing mechanically wrong with Garnet as a character. Her characterization is relatively consistent, and at no point did I feel off-put by her swagger or conduct. However, there’s no shaking that what the game accomplishes with Garnet for 50% of the story is the narrative equivalent of taking the “path of least resistance.” Having your hapless princess be an idealistic and naïve altruist is the lowest of all hanging fruit. There’s nothing wrong with Garnet, but she’s essentially a pretzel. She has a crunch here and there but mostly, she’s a bland and predictable tour de force. Despite what the special packaging may say, all pretzels are the same, and likewise, all naïve princesses are alike.

Part 39: It’s Time For The Game To Defeat You With Inane Bullshit

Oh and this is the most pointless game map I have ever seen since Final Fantasy VIII’s labyrinth map
Oh and this is the most pointless game map I have ever seen since Final Fantasy VIII’s labyrinth map

Oh hey will you look at that, I went on another narrative rant without discussing the actual content of the scene at hand. Ain’t I a stinker? Princess Dagger and Steiner talk for a bit at the station stop. Does anything of consequence happen here? NOT REALLY! Do you still have to stomach through this scene, regardless? YUP! Now that’s harsh considering you meet up with Cinna and Marcus from the thieving acting troupe from earlier. After a comical reunion of sorts, Garnet learns that the couple is off to the town of Treno to find a cure for Blank’s petrification. Because Garnet has developed a semi-maternal instinct that motivates her to help people, she decides that she must assist Marcus no matter what. The ultimate question I have is why. Why does Garnet suddenly have this strong desire to help every helpless civilian she sees? What is Garnet’s pathos, ethos, or logos? Lacking this basic building block to her character makes Garnet feel like an artificial artifice that struggles to stand above her tropes.

For reasons that are not entirely known, Garnet has traded her responsibilities of saving the world from a global war; to curing one person from being frozen to a tree. Well isn’t that just dandy? If we had seen orphan children on the streets would Garnet have adopted them? Or if we had seen some injured dog, would Garnet have spent hours trying to rehabilitate the mangy mutt? Yes, perhaps Garnet feels compelled to assist Marcus as she feels guilt in being the source of Blank’s petrification. HOWEVER, let’s not lose sight of the whole reason Garnet wanted to break out of Lindblum in the first place! Garnet is trying to convince her maniacally evil mother from taking over the world! How does curing Blank of his petrification take precedent over this?

Here we go again....
Here we go again....

What I find more insulting is how much of a hindrance Garnet ends up being on Marcus’s quest. I can hear many of you typing away that this may well be the whole point of the scene. To that, I respond with loud fart sounds directly at my computer screen. Marcus already has a clear idea where the “Supersoft,” which will cure Blank of his pertification, can be found. Not only that, but Marcus does not ask for our help. Instead, Garnet insists that she make amends by traveling to Treno with Marcus. So honestly, why are we helping him and delaying our quest to stop a war? Why can’t this all be conveyed via an ATE instead of being a playable scene in the game? OH MY GOD! Did I inadvertently defend the ATE system? WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING ANYMORE?!

So we stomached through the air taxi sequence. Listened to Steiner and Garnet droll on about their inane life problems. Conveniently crossed paths with Cinna and Marcus. All in the name of having ANOTHER fight with Black Waltz 3…. That’s my climax?

 Are you fucking kidding me?
Are you fucking kidding me?

Right then. This game repeats its boss battles way too often. At this point we have fought the Black Waltzes four times; eventually we will clash with Beatrix three times; finally, don’t get me started on the number of times we fight derivatives of dragons in this game. If you are going to have boss battles in your game, you should use them as cinematic transitions between story moments. When you repeat a boss that isn’t the primary antagonist it cheapens the whole point of boss battles. Boss battles are cinematic set pieces that provide the game with extra visual “flair” as you master the mechanics of the game. The final Black Waltz battle comes across as needless padding that serves no greater purpose other than to elongate the scene where it takes place.

Part 40: Where’s Ross Perot? Because I Can Hear A Giant Sucking Sound!

I'm sorry but who are you? Are you a clone of Garnet from a different dimension?
I'm sorry but who are you? Are you a clone of Garnet from a different dimension?

Once the battle has concluded we witness another scene wherein Marcus theorizes the origin of the attack on Burmecia. As to be expected, Steiner steadfastly denies the growing mountain of evidence that the attack is connected to Alexandria. Good on the game for having Marcus call out Steiner for his bullshit. Bad on the game for rehashing a debate we have been subjected to dozens of times prior to this. As I have mentioned time and time again, my issue is not that Steiner is behaving like a doofus. My issue is that Steiner is a singular character trope extended for hours upon end, and the game takes its time to remind you of this… on multiple occasions. This eventually compounds the abruptness of his “change of heart,” and weakens the emotional impact of that moment. After Garnet and company boards the air taxi she exclaims her desire to assist Marcus in locating the supersoft. The sense of resignation by Marcus is impalpable:

I'm right there with you Marcus. Join the brotherhood of disappointment. We hold group sessions every Tuesday.
I'm right there with you Marcus. Join the brotherhood of disappointment. We hold group sessions every Tuesday.

As you might expect, I have an issue with this. First, Garnet’s attitude during this scene feels wrong. She talks about exploring Treno as if it is a game to her. Her naiveté this time around is counter-intuitive towards building her character. Rather than developing her as she gains more experiences, the game continues to have her extol her initial character trope of being naïve. This results in me feeling a great amount of disaffection towards her reactions to the world. When Garnet provides assessments of Treno, it’s groan-inducing. My second issue is a more fundamental issue. Garnet is not interesting to listen to for most of our time in Treno. We have no reason to feel invested in seeing her accomplish her goal because it feels disconnected with the main plot. Now I’m not saying that saving Blank will not pay dividends down the road, but as it stands, the game does a horrible job at articulating why performing this task is so critical to the story. Instead, we are whisked away on what we initially think is a “side quest” with no choice on the matter.

Before we discuss what you accomplish in Treno, let’s talk about its design, and why I never want to come back to this location ever again. Treno is an unmitigated nightmare to navigate through. The cluttered town has multiple levels and is oblique about its foreground. There were entire screens where I was stuck trying to determine if there was an exit to a story related location or not. Discerning where you need to go in Treno is made all the more difficult considering that the game provides little direction when you enter the town. This all results in Treno feeling like a jumbled mess. Buildings lead to new story beats unrelated to your main quest, and my effort to get back on track felt like a fever dream.

Part 41: Everything In Treno Is Boring Shlock

If first impressions are everything, then Treno sure has no hope of finding a partner. On top of the town being a nightmare to navigate through the level inundates you with ATE after ATE. As I have mentioned before, the ATE system is novel but the game really needs to prioritize the information it wants the player to witness. Sometimes I felt as if I only took a dozen steps to the next screen before being prompted with a new batch of ATEs. The result is that our introduction to Treno comes across as herky-jerky, with the exposition having a brutal “stop and go” feel.

For once I agree and respect something that came out of Steiner's mouth
For once I agree and respect something that came out of Steiner's mouth

This issue compounds my earlier complaint of Treno feeling directionless. With a multitude of layers to every screen, it’s easy to lose track of where you are going. Interjecting every screen with an ATE just worsens this problem. Yes, it’s HILARIOUS that Garnet gets robbed. It is equally humorous that you can follow up this plot beat by locating the robber and gaining the item they bought from the money they stole. However, there’s a consequence to performing this task. Now you get to look forward to retracing your steps to figure out where the fuck you need to go.

Can we talk about how much of the combat has been excised in disc two? Take out the random encounters and I think you have to admit that the second disc of Final Fantasy IX is devoid of action and conflict. Not that the story is lacking in strife, but it feels like our fight with Black Waltz 3 is the only significant battle for the next three hours. While I have not been having the best of time with the combat in Final Fantasy IX, the lack of it in the first half of disc two results in the game having an even slower burn than the first disc.

But hey, at least I got to listen to a communist plot to overtake the bugiouse
But hey, at least I got to listen to a communist plot to overtake the bugiouse

So what does the game replace combat set pieces with? Why more situational and character humor! For example, you have the auction house in Treno which is a Final Fantasy reference factory! Luckily when you reconnect Steiner and Garnet, they expeditiously find Marcus. Here the party meets up with Baku who informs them that the supersoft they are looking for is at a noble's house. As you might expect, Steiner is nonplussed about this development and continually endeavors to convince Garnet to not involve herself in this act of thievery. His dialogue plays out exactly as you might expect, and I honestly thought I had magically been transported back to the first disc as this played out.

Part 42: At Least This Game Knows How To Do Framing

It’s not all doom and gloom at Treno. When you finally board the gondola you end up witnessing one of the greatest examples of blocking and framing in a video game. Each of the characters is found on separate corners of the ship, and that allows the game to pan to each character to provide them with a brief soliloquy. It is also worth noting how each soliloquy establishes each character’s motivations and logos up to this point.

Steiner is finally showing signs of his facade breaking apart. He openly questions the decision making of the queen, and if his blind obedience to the queen’s rule is correct. While I would normally question why Steiner does not confront these facts earlier, “it’s better late than never” as some people say. It’s at this point my bile levels directed towards our hapless knight subsided. Steiner is slowly starting morph into something I can at least respect from a distant vantage point. Well… mostly.

BECAUSE YOU ACT LIKE A CHILD! HOW DO YOU NOT SEE THIS?
BECAUSE YOU ACT LIKE A CHILD! HOW DO YOU NOT SEE THIS?

There you go, it’s about fucking time. After two hours of farting around, Garnet finally extrapolates what’s been on her mind all this time. Yes, she’s childish, but I don’t care! I wanted this game to articulate the thought process behind its characters in a clear and cohesive manner. This way the actions of the characters would cease feeling questionable. Why does Garnet want to prove that she can accomplish things on her own like an adult? Was her mother abusive? Why does she want to leave the castle in the first place? Fucking whatever, I’ll take whatever I can get at this point. Is the narrative’s answers for my questions low hanging fruit? ABSOLUTELY! Does going for the low hanging fruit at least prevent the story from experiencing cognitive dissonance? A THOUSAND TIMES YES! Sometimes it is all about the “small victories” instead of the decisive victories.

If anything the act of gaining the supersoft is an anti-climax, but I think that is the point. As the party peruses through the belongings of the noble, they are caught red-handed. However, Garnet immediately identifies the person who catches them as a former professor of hers. This saves the party from unnecessary conflict and allows them to gain the supersoft peacefully. I found this to be an interesting and effective way to establish that Garnet has her own talents and connections that will prove helpful to the party. If you want to establish a character as being necessary why not have them save the party from a pending disaster? I think this scene works wonders for the story. The scene with Doctor Tot at his observatory was decidedly less so.

This scene is so exciting that the game's own characters cannot remain awake during it.
This scene is so exciting that the game's own characters cannot remain awake during it.

I will not take up too much time, but the exposition dump that occurs at Doctor Tot’s observatory is exactly that. It conveys a deluge of information in a relatively short amount of time, and overall I glossed over most of it. My main takeaways are: 1.) there’s magical shit called “e-dildos/Eidolons,” and 2.) Garnet spent most of her childhood with professors like Doctor Tot instead of her parents. That’s about all I got. However, if one of you wish to send me an abbreviated version of this scene, then understand that you would be forever in my debt. Feel free to send me an e-mail at idontgiveashit@comcast.net

Part 43: Can We Talk About How TERRIBLE The Music Is For Gargan Roo?

Some of you may have noticed that I rarely talk about music on these blogs. To be honest, a soundtrack is usually window dressing to me. It’s nice to have a good soundtrack to set up a new location or set piece, but it is not the only piece to the puzzle. There’s that, and the fact I am a post-modern minimalist that has championed the works of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman. To say my taste in music is “eccentric” would be an understatement. All of these supporting facts have motivated me to avoid talking about music and sound design on my blogs. Well, unless we count the time Final Fantasy VIII snuck K-pop into a game, but to my defense, that’s an extreme case.

That aside, I think the music in Gargan Roo is trash. It is so bad I ended up muting my computer as I trudged through the location. The music is discordant in a way that would make Igor Stravinsky cringe.

Stop, stop, I confess! The melody for the track is disconnected with the main beat, and the result feels dissonant. I honestly think the music is taunting the player. After spending hours running around in circles, the music’s grunts become cackling laughs. You are stuck. The game knows you are stuck so here’s some shitty music to hold you over. As I grew increasingly frustrated with navigating Gargan Roo, I had to continue to listen to this fever dream of a track. The only reason I bring this up is because of how inconsistent I feel the music is in Final Fantasy IX. Melodic tracks are tied to downbeat locations and story moments, and downbeat tracks are associated with chipper locations. What’s going on here? Can one of you explain why this upbeat techno music is the main track for the Black Mage Village? You know… the same village where SHIT GETS REAL WITH VIVI!

This sounds like music you could listen to while celebrating Christmas with a bunch of children! Gather round kids and get your hot chocolate as I level with you about the fragility of life and our own morality!

Part 44: Everything Involving The Gargans Is Bullshit

Glory, glory, hallelujah! This bullshit is marching on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! This bullshit is marching on!

Defend the Gargan transportation system. I dare you. I double dog dare you. I mean it. Defend this entire sequence. Explain how this builds the world of Final Fantasy IX. Extrapolate how it’s a wonderful set piece where Steiner and Garnet shine as characters. Write a dissertation pertaining to how the Gargan Roo is a great use of time and resources. I DARE YOU!

I guess the game made me feel sympathetic towards a bunch of monsters that look like giant spiders. That’s an accomplishment I guess…. Otherwise, WHAT THE FUCK WERE THE DEVELOPERS THINKING? WHY IS THIS HERE? WHO THOUGHT THIS NEEDED TO HAPPEN? Fucking just have Steiner, Garnet, and Marcus hitch a ride on a boat like any normal person instead of subjecting me to this asinine bullshit! Worse yet, the game forces the player to control an under-leveled party, AND there’s a high encounter rate in the Gargan cave system. What a wonderful idea! If you are going to screw over the player why not crush their will to live as well?

You have never dreamed of being transported in a basket carried by a giant spider? That's weird, I have that dream once a week!
You have never dreamed of being transported in a basket carried by a giant spider? That's weird, I have that dream once a week!

For those that do not understand what I have been ranting about the past three or four paragraphs, there’s an underground mass transit system that the world of Final Fantasy IX used to use. It so happens that this transportation system involves riding on the backs of giant insects, and these insects are called “Gargans.” Whelp, I know I have been almost entirely negative on this edition of my blog, but I think it’s time for me to call this a “wrap.” There’s only so much vomit in one person. Congratulations Final Fantasy IX, you have officially broken my excitement in playing more of you! I swear sometimes… wait. You know what? FUCK IT! I will keep playing this game until it gives me something good! This game can’t “beat” me! I’m a grown man! I’m not about to let a bullshit filler sequence suck my soul!

I AM THE GREATEST FINAL FANTASY NITPICKER IN ALL THE INTERNET!

I WILL HAVE MY SATISFYING PLOT TWIST ONE WAY OR ANOTHER!

Part 45: Some Bullshit Happens And Garnet Gets Captured

We enter the Queen’s palace basement, and the party is immediately captured by Zorn and Thorn.

All right then. I think I have exceeded my
All right then. I think I have exceeded my "Bullshit Character Quota (BCQ)!"

That almost makes everything we accomplished at Treno and the Gargan Roo feel utterly pointless. Might I add I think Zorn and Thorn are shit characters? Okay, MOVING ON THEN!

NO FUCK YOU, I SAID “MOVING ON THEN!”
NO FUCK YOU, I SAID “MOVING ON THEN!”

Fine, let’s talk about why I dislike Zorn and Thorn! I want a fucking clear villain in this game! I want to be able to follow what the thought process behind one villain in this game is. Is that too much to ask for? I’M TWENTY HOURS DEEP AND HAVE NO IDEA WHO I AM FIGHTING AND WHY! I want a villain that has a motive and clear vision in terms of what they wish to accomplish in the story. Zorn and Thorn have none of these qualities. Worse yet, the two jesters poison what goodwill I still have for the story. They may be jesters but their villainy is played to such a comical degree that their actions and mannerisms hurt the tone of the game.

Every… single… Final… Fantasy… game… has… this… problem.

In Final Fantasy IX’s case, the gleeful terror of Zorn and Thorn is made all the intolerable because you do not understand who they are working for and why. Sure, perhaps they work for the Queen, but when her “condition” changes they continue to work for the antagonist. Why? Because the game wants to provide a crazy boss battle with a couple jesters later down the road. That’s basically it. Someone wanted to put Hellish jesters in this game, and I guess that’s something we are just going to have to deal with.

Part 46: Before Things Get “Good” It’s Time For MORE BULLSHIT PUZZLES

We finally transition back to “A-Team” moments after their disastrous encounter with Beatrix. Knowing the Queen’s army is headed for Cleyra our intrepid explorers set out to beat the army at their own game. As our motley crew finds their way to Cleyra, they discover that the city is surrounded by a sandstorm. To reach the city itself, we must first trudge through countless sand based environmental puzzles and traps.

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK THIS!
FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK THIS!

In one of these “puzzles”, you have to smash on the X-button to break free from sand whirlpools. What an absolutely riveting minigame. To be honest, ascending the trunk of Cleyra isn’t nearly as bad as the Gargan Roo, or any of the platforming bits from Final Fantasy VII. However, it is yet another highlight of how slow the second disc is. After the story finally got its act together and put its world building practices into action everything kind of stopped in terms of the storytelling. Yeah, maybe Garnet had a slight coming of age moment, but that’s pennies compared to the hours we have already sunk into disc two! How does anything we have done up to this point honor the high note that disc one ended on?

Even entering the tree is a treat!
Even entering the tree is a treat!

At the least, Cleyra is one of the more visually stunning locations you will ever witness in the game. While your time there may be short, every part of Cleyra firmly establishes how distinct the culture of its citizens is. In fact, the locations each showcasing a distinct culture has been one of my favorite aspects of Final Fantasy IX’s art design. Now I may not enjoy every location we grace our presence with, but you have to hand it to the developers that the world feels livable and organic. As you ascend the trunk of Cleyra, you already have a firm understanding that the people here are more in-tune with nature than any of the other cultures found in the Mist continent. Not only that, but Final Fantasy IX accomplishes setting the mood and tone of Cleyra without having to utter a single word.

When you reach the top of Cleyra, you are again astounded by the settlement’s art design. Its intricate pathways each lead to beautifully ornate buildings and monuments. Such beauty makes what happens later in the story all the more tragic, and it is this tactical use of beauty I find incredibly enamoring in hindsight. Holy shit! Using a location’s art design to reinforce a tragedy later in the game? It’s like the magic of storytelling in practice!

To be honest parts of Cleyra looked like an old matte painting, and I mean that as a compliment.
To be honest parts of Cleyra looked like an old matte painting, and I mean that as a compliment.

Part 47: Something Something Freya

No Caption Provided

Cleyra provides a multifaceted role for the game’s story. First, it is a location that provides multiple opportunities for Freya to get some much-needed characterization. Freya has been a quiet but consummate member of the party I honestly was interested in learning about. Freya showcased the audience a wide spectrum of emotions when we first entered the gates of Burmecia after the full breadth of the massacre there was witnessed. At Cleyra, Freya receives a more in-depth character moment. This moment was much needed, but that said, it wasn’t nearly as emotionally effective as I would have hoped.

In the previous episode, I touched upon my biggest issue regarding Freya. Freya’s character arc revolves around her courting her male “soul mate,” and her quest to cure his amnesia. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, but this game really goes for the low hanging fruit for some its characters. It’s as if the writers at Square really ran out of possible character stories and ultimately fused the two most generic character arcs into one: amnesia AND star-crossed lovers! It’s a “buy one, get one free” exercise of pure mediocrity. Freya is a warrior knight, and she is relegated to this schlock.

At least Freya can bust a nice Texas two-step.
At least Freya can bust a nice Texas two-step.

I do not understand how this character arc will develop, but my anxiety is already cropping up. Does Square even know how to write a strong and independent female character? I like Freya from a vantage point. She has been strong-willed, and earlier she was the only character willing to engage the other cast members dogmatically. I'm scared everyone, I’m scared because I can see “it” happening. I know what they will do… they will have this garbage date sequence where Freya tries to “jolt” Fratley’s memories. Then at some point, she will drop to her knees and beg him to remember who she is. Then his memories will be restored and they fall madly in love with one another. Despite the game having done a stellar job in depicting Freya as a strong and independent character, I can feel this evaporating for the sake of rehashing the same old “a woman needs a man” story arc. FUCK THAT! FUCK LIFE! What a waste of a perfectly interesting character.

At least the depictions of Burmecian and Cleyran culture were good. Both races greet Zidane with open arms, and when you finally gain entry to the cathedral in Cleyra you are treated with a crash course on their beliefs and practices. It is exposition and world building I welcomed wholeheartedly. Not only do the later portions of the story highlight a dire need to understand and appreciate each race’s distinct culture, but there’s a clear sense that both races are under attack. For all we know this could be the last time anyone learns about the Cleyran harp or dancing practices of the Burmecians. That it is, makes this scene all the most impactful in hindsight.

But then Quina has to remind you that Quina is a character in this story.

Oh isn’t this just “dandy”.
Oh isn’t this just “dandy”.

Oh, and if you explore the environment and locate Quina near the sandpit by the edge of town, Quina ends up throwing you into the sand whirlpool which transports you to the base of the trunk of Cleyra.

Fuck Quina, and fuck video games forever.
Fuck Quina, and fuck video games forever.

Part 48: The Story Stops Making Sense

Before the story really kicks back into high gear, we end up saving Vivi’s old friend from earlier, Puck, from a horrible Antlion monster.

Let’s all forget Puck originally wanted to make Vivi into his “slave.”
Let’s all forget Puck originally wanted to make Vivi into his “slave.”

It turns out that Puck is actually the heir to the Burmecian throne because OF COURSE HE IS! After Freya busts her groove tragedy besets the story. The sandstorm that protects Cleyra stops entirely after a harp snaps apart. I don’t know... a wizard did it. I will guess we will never entirely understand why the sandstorm stopped. One thing is for certain, everyone understands that an impending invasion is about to play out before our eyes.

The game then transitions back to Garnet and company, and I almost wish it hadn’t. Marcus and St