Well, here we are. It’s autumn 2016 and raining leaves everywhere, and I’ve now seen Final Fantasy IX to its conclusion. Well, in reality, that was a couple months back when it wasn’t as chilly in the morning and all shades of red, orange, and yellow because I’m slow to write these days.
I think it is officially the…third game in the ironically long-lasting series to get crossed off for the history books. The two others include Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy XII. I have also watched–Maker, forgive me–Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within more than once, so perhaps that should count for something. Or maybe I need to really consider never mentioning that publicly ever again. Anyways, this has been a long-time coming, and if any of you reading this blog o’ mine are frequent visitors then you’ll know I’ve been…hmm, actively doesn’t really seem right to use…futilely trying to beat this game since about 2013. Or, if you consider when I actually got my PlayStation 1 copy, then more like the year 2000.
Final Fantasy IX is an RPG that has always managed to grip me with its first several hours of action and adventure and story-telling, and then lose me by the end of the second of four discs. I will continue to stick my flag in the ground and say that this epic adventure is too epic, and that the story should have concluded once Garnet was back in Alexandria, her mother, Queen Brahne, no longer a viable threat. Sure, sure, the whole Kuja side-plot would need some rewriting to make that work, but just have the two go down together and bring on the parades of peace and happiness and Vivi not feeling terrible about his existence. Everything that happens on discs three and four is insane, and I don’t mean crazy in a good. I mean characterized or caused by madness. Honestly, I tried to follow along in earnest, but once we got to the point where we learn that Zidane and Kuja are actually Genomes, sentient soulless beings constructed by Garland for the purpose of acting as hosts for Terran souls when two parallel universes merged…well, I gave up caring. There’s a really good chance I even got some of those details wrong, and I was using an online source.
Here’s the thing. Without its cast, Final Fantasy IX is just another adventure to save the world from destruction. From a single-minded villain. I’ll go out on a limb and say its three most pivotal characters are Zidane, Dagger, and Vivi. Steiner is one note, and that note is amusing and never sways too high or low, but not enough to be top tier. Despite not caring what was happening in the overall plot in the second half of this fever dream, I did care greatly about what was happening to each and with each of these characters, as well as many of the side, almost one-offs, such as Cid and Beatrice. The characters are quirky and troubled, all trying to better themselves or find their place in the world–something I can connect with. Also, those Active Time Events I loved so much? Yeah, they are nearly non-existent in the last two discs, which was a big bummer, as it is in those side snippets that you learn the most about the cast.
As it turns out, despite the number of hours I put into Final Fantasy IX, there are complete sections and quests that I didn’t even dip my toes into, for various reasons. Such as Chocobo Hot & Cold, a mini-game that is so lengthy and involved that it might as well be its own standalone title. Related to this is feeding Kupo Nuts to a Moogle couple and watching their family grow. Now, I did keep up with delivering mail for Mognet, but was unsuccessful in seeing it all the way through; evidently, you can eventually visit the headquarters and save the post office from fading into memory. Dang, that sounds pretty good. I also didn’t fight any of the Treno weapon shop monsters or participate in many games of Tetra Master, content to simply collect the cards, though I’d estimate I didn’t even hit 50% of them by the time credits rolled. There’s even more things I didn’t do, as my focus from disc three forward was on strengthening my team–always Zidane, Vivi, Steiner, and Dagger–and synthesizing good weapons and armor in their fight against Kuja’s evil minions.
Whew. Unsurprisingly, I suspect I have a lot more to say about Final Fantasy IX, but I’d rather wait for those thoughts and revelations to emerge naturally and not force them out through my fingertips. It’s a big game. There’s a lot going on here, and I’m not just talking about mechanics and boss fights and grinding. Vivi’s “who/what am I?” story is handled with such coldness and confusion, and it gets me every time. I still love how perfect the “Dagger Tries” ATE is in Dali. That said, every love connection felt really forced, and that ending cinematic and triumphant reveal was a little too drawn out for my liking. Again, like when I went back to play Primal, I’ve discovered that there’s both good and bad to examine here; real quick, I’m not at all saying that Final Fantasy IX is anything like Primal. In fact, it’s far superior, but both of those games are ones that I played the opening hours over and over again, building them up in my brain and assuming that’s how the entire game went. Nope, nope.
I’m most certainly not ready to commit to another entry in the series at this point. In fact, the only other one I have in my grasp that hasn’t seen its credits roll is Final Fantasy VIII, and I’m missing one of the middle discs because I was young and dumb once and loaned it to a “friend” who ended up moving away with it, which really puts a nail in that quest’s coffin. I would certainly love to dive deeper and play one of the older titles; that NES Classic Edition coming out this holiday season comes packed with the original Final Fantasy, as well as 29 other retro titles. Hmm. Also, perhaps one day, far, far down the road of life, I’ll give Final Fantasy IX another swing since it is now available on Steam and has a tempting list of Achievements to pop.
Until then, I’ll just cast “Sleep” on myself and crawl under a tent as a Moogle softly sings me to safety, to slumber.