So a little disclaimer here. This is my first blog I did in the Gamer Gush series. I wrote this a few months ago and am posting it here for your reading pleasure. So a couple things: First off, I've posted a few other of these on here, so yeah this is out of order with the other gushes I've posted on Dtoid. Two, I did this one in two parts. I've edited the two parts into one long read. So anyway, hope you enjoy and discuss the game if you want! It's my favorite game of all time personally, and it's one of the reasons I did it first.
Spoiler Warning: each of these Gushers (yeah that'll do) will contain spoilers. These aren't exactly reviews, more like retrospectives. If you haven't played/watched/read what I write about... then what are you waiting for!? Anyway let's get to rambling.
So I think I'll kick this thing off with my favorite game of all time to get it out of the way.
This is the game that got me into Final Fantasy. My very first one. I remember hanging out a friend's house back when this was released and starting a new game on his memory card. It was unlike any game I had ever played, and I'm not even so sure why I got hooked at first. That opening cinematic though blew my mind at the time and when I finally got my own copy (complete with it's less than stellar strategy guide) I didn't know what a treat I was in for.
Like I said, this was the FF game that got me into the series. I worked my way backwards from here. None have quite been able to capture the magic this one has though. I firmly believe that Final Fantasy IX is the most underrated of the entire series. I'm not sure if it was overshadowed by X's looming release, or maybe it was cast aside after folks were disappointed with VIII. I'm not quite sure. What I am certain of though is that this game is criminally overlooked far too often.
After a few futuristic entries, this game takes the series name to heart and throws itself into a nearly traditional fantasy setting. You've got knights, magic, dragons. The game takes these elements and makes a world both familiar and completely new. And while the world itself is beautiful, it's the characters that help build the world. Final Fantasy IX has, to me, the best cast of characters of any FF game, and quite possibly any game. Their personalities bleed through in a way that wasn't conveyed in a game up until this point. And while each character was as tropey as you can get, the charm and writing of each one made them into a cast more relatable than any Final Fantasy had given us thus far. Let's have a run down of the main cast:
FFIX's protagonist. Well, for the most part, I'll get into that later. Zidane is a charming, funny, and girl crazy thief that we meet in the first minutes of the game. A member of the band of actors/thieves, Tantalus, Zidane and his team are tasked with kidnapping Princess Garnet. Zidane was a breath of fresh air after the last two Final Fantasy games featured protagonists full of angst and broodiness. He is a happy-go-lucky type of person and sees no problem in cracking wise even in the most tense of situations. It wasn't until near the end of the game we see a dark side of Zidane (in probably the most memorable moment of the game).
those aren't tears, I've just been playing for a long time...
Zidane's layers as a character come apart in a very natural way as his origin story is finally unraveled. Turns out he is a clone of the main antagonist and is created in order to destroy the world. (Sounds alot like a certain spikey headed sword wielder). Zidane goes through his demons in a beautifully tragic way and we come out cheering even more for him. Although labeled as the game's resident thief, Zidane's intentions are quite pure and puts himself before his friends many times throughout the game. And that's one of the great things about this here, these characters are indeed friends and their relationships are some of the strongest seen in a game.
So this is when we get into murky "who's the real main character?" territory. Zidane may be who you play as for 90% of the game, but Princess Garnet AKA Dagger probably has more going for her in the story department. The game literally revolves around her. It starts with her, it ends with her. She drives the story. She starts off as your typical, overly royal princess. Tantalus is tasked with kidnapping her, but when she reveals herself to Zidane, she straight up asks to be taken after she grows suspicious of her mother's intentions. At the beginning of the game Dagger frequently butts heads with Zidane, not approving of his reckless ways and constantly staving off his romantic advances. As the story progresses however, she begins to transform, figuratively and literally. Halfway through the game Dagger takes a dagger and chops off her long hair as a symbol of her transformation from helpless princess to the strong new queen.
Not exactly subtle, but that moment is a powerful one and shows us that maybe we aren't really playing as the game's main character.
Here we have one of my favorite game characters ever, and one that I identified strongly with when I first played this game. When I first played FFIX I was only a little older than Vivi was... well that's not true. Vivi in the game is technically 6 months old. He, like Zidane, was born of a cloning process. A prototype black mage used as an instrument of murder, all housed inside the body of a 9 year old. We first meet Vivi simply wanting to see a play. That's it. It isn't until later we realize the reasons for his existence and the power he holds. The moment Vivi finds out he was created, specifically as a murder bot, to say he takes it hard is an understatement. He finds this out very early in the game and as the story progress Vivi goes through an existential crisis within himself. His story arc was something that I identified with, being a similar age, and while I wasn't born with the ability to completely destroy a whole city, the thoughts of why I existed did come to mind at the time. Frankly they still do. When Vivi and the rest of the party discover a village filled with self aware black mages (they are essentially born non sentient), he desperately tries to connect with them. He learns about their lifestyle and tries to the best of his ability to understand his origins. Some of the most beautifully written bits in the game come from talks between Vivi and the village's leader, Mr. 288. The first of these concerns 288's moment when he became self aware.
"I just woke up one day... and there was a human body lying next to me. His body was covered in blood. It scared me... I didn't know what it meant. I ran as fast as I could. When I looked around, I was far from the front line. There were many others like me, and we decided to escape together. ... Many of our friends stopped moving recently. The ones that were produced earlier stopped first... Maybe our lifespan is limited..."
This is followed by many heart wrenching conversations between the two.
Many of the games themes have Vivi dealing with them head on: Life and death, existence, meaning, morality. For my money Vivi is the most complex Final Fantasy character ever conceived.
Moving right along let's talk about Steiner. He's the guy who wants nothing more than to protect Princess Garnet and to bring her back to her insane mother, Queen Brahne.
Who wouldn't trust that face!? Steiner is incredibly stubborn and throughout much of the game he refuses to believe that Brahne is up to anything nefarious. I mean, all she wants to do is steal her daughter's magical powers then chuck the body who knows where.
Anyway, Steiner's character is mainly that of comic relief for a good amount of the game. He does have some depth however, especially evident during a badass battle between him and a bunch of nasty millipede looking things. When his kingdom is being laid siege to by the REAL villain (let's not pretend we don't know how RPG's work.) he teams up with Beatrix.
Good God her hands.
Steiner and Beatrix form a close bond during the battle. Initially untrustworthy of Zidane and his intentions (for good reason, let's face it), Steiner eventually accepts that he must do what is right instead of blindly following orders. Not the most original of character arcs, but he makes for an enjoyable presence, especially in your party as your resident wrecking ball.
Hoo boy let's talk about Quina.
Ok, so, if I had to pick a least favorite thing about this game, this is it right here. That thing. The Cait Sith of FInal Fantasy IX. Quina Quan is a Qu *sigh* that lives out in the marshes outside of the game's main towns. She/He (this is how this creature is referred to in the game, points for equality?) speaks in a very annoying caveman-esq language and will literally eat anything. Quina's main purpose is to seek out the best cuisine and learn from it. And learn S/He does. Quina is the game's resident Blue Mage and acquires new abilities via eating enemies. And that's actually a really cool concept, and it's not even implemented poorly. Quina can even become a formidable party member later in the game, but goddamn if Quina wants you to hate him/her. I don't know about other players, but for me, as soon as I got the option to choose who came with me, Quina was relegated to the void of my party list. Perpetually staying between level 15-20, even when I was forced to use her against a level 50 boss. Yes Quina is that character you wish they didn't think up. S/He isn't without her charms though. The frog catching mini game, though tedious, does reward you with some sweet gear later on, and S/He does have some admittedly funny moments. The problem is the character is so goofy that Quina's presences kind of waters down the game's more poignant scenes, namely Zidane's loner section near the end. Small gripe's really. Quina can actually be quite useful if used right, you just have to be able to tolerate his/her buffoonery.
This is another character that, unfortunately, warms the bench for much of my playthroughs. Eiko is the last remaining summoner and as we learn later on a relative of Dagger's. According to many of the game's bios on her, she is supposed to be 6, but the way she is written it's kinda hard to believe that. 8 seems like a more reasonable age, but I guess I can suspend disbelief in a game with a giant, talking rat (oh we're getting there). Eiko actually has some pretty kickass spells at her disposal and has a lot of heart in her character. Her interactions with the different cast members is always refreshing and fun. Definitely one of the least bleak characters, Eiko is constantly optimistic even when being faced with crazy odds against her and her friends.
Hey remember that rat I mentioned?
So Freya is at the top of my list of faves, maybe right behind Vivi. A badass dragoon named after the Norse Goddess of war, Freya is on the hunt for her lost love, Sir Fratley (cheesy stuff I know, but it gets good.) Freya bumps into Zidane, both of whom have already met each other under unknown circumstances, in Lindblum before the Festival of the Hunt. She agrees to join the party when she learns they are heading to her homeland of Burmecia (full of rats). Unfortunately that little venture doesn't work out so well, so our friends head to a desert settlement (also full of rats). There she finds Fratley, who happens to save their lives. Turns out though, the guy doesn't even remember Freya though after getting amnesia on his travels. It's a bit of a tragedy, that frankly never gets resolved. At the very end of the game, we see little snippets into the lives of the characters and where they are. Freya and Fratley are at the Burmecian ruins, talking about the rebuilding process. Fratley seems to have not let the amnesia get in the way of their love, and accepts Freya fully... this is bittersweet though because Freya, thinking to herself has doubts whether or not it's the same since he doesn't even remember her. This is how her plot ends. With her less than happy and unsure about Fratley's love for her. Her character has enough mystery to it that I would love to see a spinoff with her, or some sort of side story of how she became a dragon knight and her journeys after the game ends.
So, last but not least in our main cast of characters is The Flaming Amarant. Major douchebag... at least when we first meet him. Initially Amarant is working for Queen Brahne to *GASP* kidnap the princess! (just stop it everyone). Well at least that's why Brahne hires him. Amarant's motives are even more personal, as he has a score to settles with Zidane. Amarant holds a strong grudge against Zidane who, some years ago, met Amarant in the city of Treno. Amarant was a security officer there, though really was little more than a thug looking for a strong opponent to face. Zidane outsmarted him instead and made Amarant a wanted man in the city. Amarant wanted to face Zidane one on one and finally got that chance. After being defeated in battle, Amarant agrees to join the party, sort of. He joins to find out what makes Zidane tick. That's really all there is to him. A strong fighter, that is quite naive to the world around him, he jsut wants to know what drives Zidane and his friends. It's one of the stranger bits of writing in the game now that I'm thinking about it. Nonetheless, Amarant becomes a likable character and a close ally of Zidane. We never really learn alot about him, and I think would make another great subject for a spin off game or story. And that wraps it up for the main party of FInal Fantasy IX.
No Final Fantasy game would be anything without it's signature bad guy. Kuja is the main puppeteer of the game, working behind the scenes for much of it. At first he seems to be nothing more than a weapons dealer for Queen Brahne, supplying her with Black Mages and monsters to summon. Eventually though his motives become much more clear after Brahne is murdered by a monster he summons. Kuja is Zidane's brother, and model from which Zidane was cloned from. Kuja was made on the dying Planet Terra, sent to the Planet Gaia and was tasked with it's destruction. Once enough chaos had ensued, Terra would begin to consume Gaia, therefore extending it's life. Kuja found out that he was artificially created and this drove him to go rogue and set out to conquer Gaia rather than destroy it. Now, Kuja never struck me as the most intimidating Final Fantasy villain. if I had to describe him I would say he is a mix of Kefka and Sephiroth... which if you read that, it sounds amazing. But I figure that their personalities would mix in a way to create something close to Kuja. What makes Kuja so appealing though is his penchant for the theatrical. He's dramatic and the way he sets his scenes for destruction makes for some of the more impressive parts in the game. Kuja is also quite sympathetic. One of the few major FF villains to possibly redeem himself in the end. He actually uses the last of his energy to save the party from complete destruction, and I think that deserves some kudos. No, he's not my favorite Fantasy villain, but he certainly is a memorable one. If not for his personality, at least for that ridiculous outfit.
So there you go. What more is there to say about FF9? It's the first game that really made me realize that I'm not just playing, I'm experiencing art. I know how damn pretentious that sounds, but it's the truth. I think everyone has that "it" moment with anything they're passionate about. One huge factor in making this game connect with me was it's amazing music. Nobuo Uematsu put together one of the best soundtracks ever in a game or elsewhere. Have a listen.
My favorite field music from any FF game. Random battles may have been a bitch, but it was always nice to hear that relaxing tune going anywhere with you.
Not sure what it was about this tune that I like so much. Seemed to contrast the darker tones within the Black Mage Village, but it also gave out a sense of optimism maybe? Or maybe It's just catchy as hell, I dunno.
And here's the final battle song you hear when fighting Kuj--- er Necron? Yeah so Kuja is the game's main antagonist, but after you defeat him, some other being comes out of literally nowhere and challenges you. That strange plot twist, and lack of explanation was all made worth it though when this kickass beat came on.
I know I'm missing a lot of other great tunes, so I encourage you to check out the ost if you feel the need. Or... y'know, play the game!
Well this was fun write up, and I think I'm going to end this entry here. I know I could go on about it, whether it's spelling out the plot entirely, going into side quests or just posting more music, but this is long as it is. Final Fantasy IX is burned into my memory as one of my most cherished games, and I hope whoever reads this gets a sense of that, or maybe even gets inspired to give it a play if they haven't before! I'm sure this won't be the last time I write about this one, but for now I'm going to find other games to fawn over.