I’m sharpening my knife, kupo
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a part of the soundtrack, a gameplay mechanic, a line of dialogue, or anything else about the game that is particularly noteworthy and/or awesome.
This series will no doubt contain spoilers for the games being discussed, so keep that in mind if you plan on playing the game for the first time.
This entry is all about Final Fantasy IX. Feel free to share some of your own favorite things about the game in the comments!
The little Black Mage that could
It’s impossible to talk about the best parts of Final Fantasy IX without mentioning Vivi. I mean, are there actually people out there who don’t like Vivi? Is that possible?
Vivi is a quiet little Black Mage who stumbles into Zidane’s group almost by accident. At first, it takes a lot of encouragement to get Vivi to fight alongside them (which, surprisingly, he gets the most of from Steiner, who is generally rude to everyone who is not the princess). Turns out Vivi is quite the powerful Black Mage, able to learn all sorts of useful magic attacks, from lighting fires to calling down comets and meteors from the sky.
What makes Vivi so great, though, is his personality. He may seem shy and insecure at first, but he is always incredibly humble and kind to everyone he meets, and he ends up being by far the most mature character in the game. The little guy goes through quite a huge transformation; it’s really great to watch his character grow.
You see, Vivi knows nothing about his past at the beginning of the game. Eventually, the team runs into more Black Mages like Vivi, but it turns out they’re being produced in a factory. Not a great way to learn the truth behind your existence… The other Black Mages can’t really communicate; they behave more like puppets, produced for the sole purpose of killing others. They’re essentially pawns in a war.
Understandably, this causes great distress for Vivi, and also raises a lot of questions, like why does he have a consciousness while the others apparently do not? Well, later on in their journey, the team comes across a hidden village of Black Mages who had suddenly “awoken” to a consciousness of their own and escaped from Queen Brahne’s army to live by themselves, cut off from the rest of the world. Vivi also discovers that some of them have been mysteriously “stopping,” or in other words dying, a year after they were built.
All of this information weighs heavily on Vivi’s thoughts, but he comes out way stronger for it than anyone could have imagined. He becomes a leader of sorts, trying to help save the Black Mages and others like them, and begins offering sound advice on life and death to the other characters, lifting everyone’s spirits and encouraging them to continue fighting for what they believe in.
Vivi is an extremely admirable character. I think the reason he resonated so well with me was because from the beginning of the game, I felt like I could relate to him. I’ve always been rather quiet and reserved, and tended to have more faith in other people than in myself. Seeing Vivi grow and become someone that people could look up to and rely on really gave me hope that I could do the same someday. Thank you for being so amazing, Vivi!
A Thorn (and a Zorn) in my side
Zorn and Thorn are a mischievous pair of antagonistic jesters. Their alliance shifts periodically during the game, first being controlled by Queen Brahne, then almost falling under Garnet’s supervision when she becomes queen, before finally being scooped up by Kuja for use in his grand scheme. But where did they even come from, exactly? Their identities largely remain a mystery, but it’s hinted that they’re just pawns, much like the Black Mages, so maybe they were created in a similar manner.
The two of them are rather bizarre characters. They’re over-dramatic, constantly bickering with each other and running around mindlessly, yet always managing to cause trouble for Zidane and friends. They have a very peculiar speech pattern, where Thorn basically repeats everything Zorn says but switches the words around (Thorn kind of sounds like Yoda). They’re really weird, but for some reason I can’t help but find them endearing. There’s just something about silly, bumbling villains that always makes me smile.
My favorite Zorn and Thorn moment is their first battle sequence. Whenever they’re ready to attack, they bounce up and down like weird toys and give each other spells to use like Meteorite and Light Flare. It’s similar to the Twincast ability used by Palom and Porom in Final Fantasy IV, although it works a little differently. It’s a very easy battle once you figure out what to do, but it just makes me happy to watch them bounce around like fools. Oh Zorn and Thorn… you guys are special.
Tinkling in the starlight
There’s one scene in Final Fantasy IX that I’m never really quite sure what to make of, but it’s so random that it has always stuck in my mind as one of the most memorable moments.
When the team arrives at the remote summoner’s village of Madain Sari, Vivi’s anxiety about his origins is at an all-time high. He goes off by himself, consumed with existential thoughts about life and death, staring off into the distance and unable to sleep. Zidane tries to comfort him, and offers to show him a trick to take his mind off of things. “This is an age-old ritual between male friends,” he says, as the camera pans away and he urges Vivi to join him by the side of the canyon to “let [himself] go under the stars.”
Then all you see are the words, “Tinkle. Tinkle tinkle. Tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle.”
Meanwhile, Eiko has been off to the side eavesdropping on them this whole time and clearly doesn’t know what to think about what’s currently happening, so she just runs away. Poor Eiko…
I still don’t know what’s up with this scene, but I think I like it. It’s apparently about pissing off the side of a cliff under the stars with a buddy, which is really weird to think about in a Final Fantasy game. But, you know, it honestly does sound pretty relaxing.
Friend or foe?
The enemies in Final Fantasy IX were top-notch. The series has always had really neat enemy designs, some based on mythology, and others like Cactuar and Tonberry created specifically for the Final Fantasy universe. The enemies in IX perfectly encapsulate the diverse roster of enemies found in the series while adding quirky new foes like Armstrong and Grimlock.
Final Fantasy IX also introduced friendly monsters. Occasionally while traveling across the world map, a random encounter would occur, but instead of the typical battle theme, the player would hear a much different, much happier tune. Sometimes this would be an enemy called the Ragtime Mouse, presenting yes-or-no quiz questions to answer. Other times, friendly monsters would appear, asking the player for ore or other items rather than engaging in combat.
Finding all of the friendly monsters can be very beneficial. For starters, they grant tons of ability points, meaning characters can easily learn abilities without having to grind much. Finding all nine friendly monsters also makes the powerful hidden boss, Ozma, much easier to fight.
Just be on the lookout for the Gimme Cat, a false friendly monster. This ungrateful jerk will ask for diamonds, but gives nothing in return. If attacked, it freaks out and counterattacks with Comet, which can easily destroy the team. Stay away from my diamonds, you mangy cat!
A trip down memory lane
The final dungeon, Memoria, has some of the coolest level design I’ve seen in a Final Fantasy game. The location is essentially comprised of the memories of Zidane, his friends, and all of their ancestors. The memories are given physical form so that they can actually walk through them. It’s presented in a surreal, dreamlike way, with architecture that twists and transforms and doesn’t really make much sense.
Each room is completely different visually from the last. One room is filled with eerie floating furniture, one is submerged underwater, one is a beautiful sunset, one is out in space, one is a stairway leading up to a creepy, red eyeball… it’s truly a joy to explore and take in the sights. I never knew what I was going to see next.
Players will also find several references to past Final Fantasy games in Memoria. Zidane and friends will have to fight four bosses: Maliris, Tiamat, Kraken, and Lich, otherwise known as the Four Fiends from the original Final Fantasy. There’s also an optional boss fight against Hades, who appeared as a summon in Final Fantasy VII. These fights were a neat way to pay tribute to the game’s roots, and they also happened to fit nicely with the theme of memories that the area fosters.
You’re not alone
One of my favorite scenes in Final Fantasy IX occurs in the alien dungeon of Pandemonium, when Zidane has an abrupt and jarring change in personality. Some people seem to feel that this particular moment is out of place, completely out of character for Zidane, and unnecessarily angsty, almost like the writers were trying to have Zidane emulate the pessimism of Cloud Strife or Squall Leonhart for no apparent reason at all. However, I can’t help but feel that these people are missing a very key element to this scene.
Immediately before this sequence, Zidane is speaking with Garland, his creator, who is very unhappy that he refuses to cooperate and take over for Kuja in his attempt to assimilate the souls of Gaia. Garland regretfully decides to discard Zidane, banishing him to Pandemonium and taking away his very soul so that he would become a mindless Genome, as he has no use for him anymore. This is the reason why Zidane suddenly has a complete change of character; he is essentially no longer Zidane.
What follows is a particularly touching scene in which all of Zidane’s friends try to get him to snap out of his unusually gloomy, antagonistic mood. They manage to interrupt the soul-stealing process and he awakens in an angry, zombie-like state. All of his friends are fighting to protect him, but he keeps pushing them away, saying he doesn’t need them anymore. Everyone is shocked at his behavior, but they keep trying to get through to him anyway, reminding him of all the ways that he helped them to be true to themselves in the past and how much his friendship means to them. Meanwhile, he keeps shutting them out and leaving them behind. Finally, Garnet, the love of his life, is able to bring him around and he returns to his normal, optimistic self.
Even though the scene is mainly about Zidane, all of the other characters really shine here. It’s a showcase of how much each character has grown, and how Zidane has affected each of their lives. It’s all about the power of friendship, which may sound incredibly sappy, but gosh darnit it makes me smile.
And of course, the best part of this entire scene is the music. “You’re Not Alone” is by far my favorite song from Final Fantasy IX. It’s moody, but with a tinge of hopefulness. It’s a perfect fit for such a beautiful scene.
Past Experience Points