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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