Tag Archives: Zidane

Final Fantasy IX: the sweetest joy and the wildest woe

finanl fantasy 9 last thoughts roundup gd post

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.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #51 – Final Fantasy IX

2016 gd games completed final fantasy IX

Princess kidnapping
Turns to saving source of life
First two discs better

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

To live in Final Fantasy IX is to give life meaning

gd update on ff9 end of disc three pandemonium

Bet you thought I gave up on Final Fantasy IX, seeing that the last time I spoke of it was back in January 2016 when I was stuck endlessly grinding my knees into the dirt against the Earth Guardian boss. I wouldn’t say I gave up, but rather stepped away for a bit. Well, several months. The idea of grinding with a two-party team made up solely of Zidane (cool) and Quina Quen (less cool) was really off-putting. I have good news though–I soldiered through it and was able to take down the Earth Guardian and get back to a much more substantial adventuring company of four. Speaking of four, I’ve also moved on to the last disc, which hopefully means that the end credits are in sight.

Look, I’ve had my copy of Final Fantasy IX for about half my life. Loyal readers should know that I’ve been trying to see this game to completion for a long while, and my track pattern used to be playing a good way into the second disc of the game and then abandoning the quest for…well, something else. I still believe that everything involving Kuja that happens after Dagger’s mother buys the farm feels like sequel material, but whatever. Here’s what I’m getting at. 2016 is the year that I, for the very first time, took disc four out of its place in the game’s jewel case and into my PlayStation 2. There are some light scratches on disc two from wear and tear, but disc four is as smooth and pristine as compact discs get. I found this to be somewhat surreal, but then again, if one was to take a look at my physical collection of games, there are a lot that I haven’t taken out of the case yet. Hmm.

Anyways, the areas after defeating the Earth Guardian weren’t difficult in terms of fights thanks to all that earlier grinding, but are story-heavy, and I’m not interested in spilling all the spoiler beans here. Also, not going to lie, a lot of what happened in Terra and Bran Bal went over my head. This is the part of Final Fantasy IX–and to some degree Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII–that I lose interest in. When lengthy conversations about life and death and souls and the universe and everything being connected take center stage. Please, no. Not again. I just want to watch the boy with the monkey tail fumble his way into telling a girl he loves her, as well as Vivi deal with self-identity.

I did end up referencing an online walkthrough as parts of Pandemonium are very maze-like, and there was even a frustrating stealth-driven puzzle section that I couldn’t get through despite all my obvious stealth skills. I continue to rely on a team makeup of Zidane (high damage and stealing), Dagger (summons and healing), Vivi (black magic and boosting Steiner), and Steiner (good damage, versatile abilities). The last part of disc three requires you to deal with three boss fights, one after the other, with no chance to save or heal up in between. I didn’t know this going in, but like I mentioned before…all that extra grinding from before paid off

Zidane and company are supposed to head to the Iifa Tree for the final confrontation with Kuja. Naturally, I’m not making a bee-line right there. I want to upgrade everyone’s gear and see if there are any side quests worth going after, as it sounds like there is really just one big dungeon left to get through. Now, a part of me suspects that I’m going to be using a mix and match of my party members in the fight to come, but some of them, such as Freya, Eiko, and Amarant, are severely under-leveled compared to others. I probably should devote some time to grinding them up. Sigh. I don’t want to do it, but I know this is probably better in the long run, and I don’t want to get all the way to the end and be unable to finish the fight, like how things went down in Final Fantasy VIII all them years ago.

I’ll be back after I complete Final Fantasy IX for the very first time. And no, I have no plans to start over now that the game has been ported to Steam with glorious, progress-rewarding Achievements. I’m too far in.

Final Fantasy IX’s Earth Guardian says slow down

ff9 Earth Guardian gd progress halt

Here’s some unsolicited advice: if you’re going to boast and hold high your mighty conquests, the very least you can do is acknowledge when you fail. You don’t need to linger on it and live your life around such defeats with a gray rain cloud hanging overhead, but coming to terms with where things went wrong will, in time, help you come to terms. That said, despite giving it a good-not-great effort, I did not complete Final Fantasy IX in 2015, which was a goal of mine after, yup, failing to not complete it the year prior. As well as the year prior to the year prior. Grr.

Look, I’m still on disc three. The last time I wrote about Final Fantasy IX, I was dealing with the consequences of sending an all-magic team to a place where no magic could be used. Since then, I’ve hit a wall, and I was hoping it wouldn’t happen, but seeing as the same thing happened to my party of heroes and heroines in Final Fantasy VIII way back in the day…I should have expected it. They always do this. Basically, to better search for the Elemental Shrines, which I believe will offer further clues on Kuja and how to take him down to the ground, your group is divided up into small parties of two: Dagger and Eiko, Freya and Amarant, Steiner and Vivi, and Zidane and Quina. Yes, Quina–that strange foodporn fanatic who battles with forks and surprise surprise I’ve barely used in my 40+ hours chipping away at Final Fantasy IX. Your party will be investigating–and battling–each shrine’s boss simultaneously, but you are only actually involved in the fight against the Earth Guardian using Zidane and Quina. Grr.

Going into this boss battle with only a party of two is scary enough to begin with, but things become dire when you realize that Zidane is around level 43 and Quina is far behind at level 28. That means Quina dies in one hit from the boss, which results in burning a turn with Zidane to revive him only to have Quina die right away from another hit. Basically, it’s not doable. You need two strong party members that can at least take a few hits before having to heal up one another–otherwise, you might as well as be swinging a sword against the base of a tall building that hits back. I have to wonder if I’d be at all successful if the other duos actually asked you to command their actions in their respective Elemental Shrine fights; certainly Steiner and Vivi are a deadly combination not to be messed with.

Unfortunately, I already saved the game on my one save slot right before entering the Earth Guardian’s shrine, with some 34 hours logged in total. Thankfully, you can retreat and either get back on the airship or wander around the area, but even grinding random battles with a party of two is a slower affair because you can’t dish out as much damage each turn, which means every fight takes longer than with a strong party of four. Alas, this is my only solution–Quina needs to be a much higher level to survive this fight and help Zidane deal out the big damage.

Knowing this fact is keeping me at bay because, at this stage of Final Fantasy IX, grinding is not as enjoyable as it was when I was permanently learning abilities for multiple characters. There are no more Active Time Events to witness either until I hit the next series of story beats. I am stuck in this one spot, with the only way out being burning several hours and items/MP-restoring items on fighting monster after monster after monster in hopes of getting one character to a decent starting place. So far, I’ve gotten Quina up to LV 36 now and taught him/her/it permanently Auto-Float and Auto-Haste, which is still not good enough. Grr.

Trust me, I’m not giving up. Final Fantasy IX‘s credits will roll, eventually. Strangely, in 2016, it’s also coming to PC and phones, but that’s not where I want to see this adventure end. Ideally, it would’ve ended where it started, on the bedroom floor of the house I grew up in, some 15 years back, on an original PlayStation 1, which featured a PSM smiley face sticker on its tray lid. At least I’m still using my PSM sticker-adorned memory card to save my slowly increasing progress. I’ll let you know when I’ve crossed this hump.

Never want to go back to Final Fantasy IX’s Oeilvert

ff9 oeilvert maxresdefault 2

Last time I wrote about Final Fantasy IX, I expressed my concern over the fact that I just couldn’t help myself wasting hours and hours on grinding for permanent abilities for all potential party members. The siren’s call to fight Zemzelett over and over simply so both Garnet and Eiko had all potential summons at their disposal was too hard to resit. Well, all I can say is that, despite wanting to do more ability grinding, I moved the plot forward after my summoners stocked up on epic, screen-defying magical beings from beyond. I mean, it’s scary–2015 is nearly over, and I simply cannot let another year go by where I don’t see this adventure through.

Unfortunately, I was watching Giant Bomb‘s Drew and Alexis Extra Life 2015 stream–for the kids!–while playing, and missed an important piece of dialogue before selecting which party of members I wanted to bring to Oeilvert. Other than the name of a place that is deviously tough to spell, it’s also home to some mystical maguffin called the Gulug Stone that Kuja wants, but is afraid to gather for himself. So he kidnaps Zidane and his friends, and in order to save some of them from dropping to their death, tasks Zidane and three other people with traveling there and obtaining the thingy for him. The important part of dialogue I missed though was that Oeilvert is a no magic zone; naturally, because I missed this, I brought Vivi, Eiko, and Garnet with me, all three of which are heavy on magic casting and not so much on hitting enemies with sticks. This made Oeilvert much harder than it needed to be, but by then I had already committed to the task, plus saved my progress.

After you complete Oeilvert, you switch back over to Cid, now a frog instead of a oglop, as he helps free the other party members. How? Through a time-based stealth puzzle section where you have to also place certain weights on scales…naturally. It’s goofy and tricky, and I’m not going to hide the fact that I looked up a solution to the weights puzzle as I was running low on time and worried about losing a good chunk of progress. It’s certainly not the best part of Final Fantasy IX, that’s for sure. With everyone else freed, you get to search the Desert Palace, light candles, and fight monsters. However, now my party was made up of Freya, Steiner, Quina, and Amarant, none of which I look to for magic stuff.

See, in this area, you fight Grimlocks, which have different strengths and weaknesses based on what colored head is on the top. The red head deals out high physical damage dealer, but has a low defense to magic. On the flip, the blue head casts status-inducing spells and has low physical defense. Basically, it boils down to this–when the red head is on top, cast magic, and when the blue is on top, attack with weapons. Basically, I had to constantly wait for these beasts to don their blue heads and then attack with everyone, though Quina did have a water spell in his/her/its inventory. This made these fights extra long, and when you get into a random encounter every few steps, it can begin to feel a bit maddening.

Somehow, I got through it all and am now on my way to the Last Continent. It might not have been the clearest cut path–and that’s my fault for not selecting better balanced parties–but I’m right behind Kuja and his army of questioning black mages as they cross through Esto Gaza. Progress, people. Progress.

Look, I don’t know how Final Fantasy IX concludes, nor do I want to just yet, so please refrain from spoilers in the comments section. Somehow, I’ve remained blissfully ignorant when it comes to plot details for the end of this story, as well as Final Fantasy VIII, but I really do feel like we’re dragging our feet now. The conclusion to disc two felt more like a finale than anything else, but I guess then that would be too short for a JRPG from the mammoth Squaresoft. I’m not as invested in Kuja as a villain as I was with Garnet’s mother, and so I am simply following after the effeminate man because the game is telling me to. Also, I hope I get an airship like soon.

Final Fantasy IX’s middle ground really drags

final fantasy 9 disc 3 slow start

I am freaking out. Not in a way that anyone would know by looking at me, but on the inside, and the inside of my insides, I am freaking out. It’s October 2015, and I’ve still not completed Final Fantasy IX, a game I set out to take down in 2013 and then, upon failing that, put in the crosshairs once more for this stretch of three hundred and sixty-five days. I could present y’all with a list of excuses, of things that got in the way and stole my limited attention span away, but it doesn’t matter. I’m in charge of this ship, and I have two months and change left to see Final Fantasy IX‘s credits roll, as well as every Active Time Event unfold.

Unfortunately, after an epic finish to Final Fantasy IX‘s second disc, which saw the ragtag group of adventurers battling the Soulcage at the Iifa Tree and then witnessing the power of Bahamut, the start to the third disc really drags. It’s got a ton of great stuff in it, but it’s all turtle-pace storytelling and character development, for nearly every character, and there’s little freedom put in the player’s hands, which means a lot of reading, watching, and doing as whoever is in charge currently says.

There’s some playful–and Broadway play-like–silliness involving a found love letter, wherein everyone who comes across it misinterprets its meaning. Next, you travel to Treno to participate in a card tournament; since I’m terrible at Tetra Master, I found myself nervously saving a lot and reloading when I’d lose a rare card to an opponent. After that, there’s the fall of Alexandria, and one could get through this seeing little action, but I did at least discover a bookshelf and hidden Tantarian in it, which awards everyone with lots of AP upon defeat; it’s a tough, long-winded battle, but worth it in the end. Lastly, there’s some action and cutscenes and rebuilding of Alexandria, with the plot pushing forward to have everyone go after Kuja with a smoldering passion, but not before trying to restore Regent Cid to human form. Spoilers: it doesn’t work.

After all that, I’m back to actively controlling my party–all members, too, even Quina–and exploring the world of Final Fantasy IX. Plot-wise, we’re off to the Black Mage Village. However, I can’t head directly there just yet. I mean, technically, yes, I totally can, now that I’m riding the ocean in style on the Blue Narciss, but my brain won’t let me. See, there’s abilities to be earned for all these party members by equipping all sorts of gear, and that means a whole lot of easy, but mindless grinding to do. I can’t not do it, I’m sorry. I need for every party member to have as many options as possible when it comes to abilities and spells to cast. Sometimes this means equipping weaker armor or weapons just to permanently learn these things. I’m sure there’s a saying that relates wells here, like to go forward, one must tumble backwards for a bit.

I think what I need to do is put aside Super Mario Maker, Fantasy Life, and Pokémon Shuffle as my late night, pre-bed gaming fix this week and focus squarely–pun intended–on getting my team up to snuff so that they can move and do actual story stuff. I care about these people and what trouble concerns their land, but I also care about earning enough AP for Steiner to learn Level Up so he can constantly level up faster, as well as Dagger to get every summon locked under her belt. You never know when you’ll need to cast that Odin or Ifrit, but you’ll be glad you can when the moment arises.

Final Fantasy IX‘s credits or bust.

Press select to witness other events in Final Fantasy IX

ff9 ate no yummies impressions

As expected, I drifted away from Final Fantasy IX on disc two, like I always do, though I partially have a good reason: I moved. Like, physically, from one abode to another. That meant, for a few days or so, my PlayStation 2 was not hooked up to a television, packed away in some box that sat in a family of cluttered boxes, unable to differentiate itself to me. Hands down, that is a solid reason why I stopped playing; however, after hooking everything up, I still didn’t give it my undivided love and attention for over two months, mostly because I got stuck on the Soulcage boss at the Iifa Tree, and I was never seemingly in the mood to grind everyone up three or four levels.

The good news is that I finally showed the Soulcage who is the true boss, thanks to grinding while listening to a podcast and then spamming Bio and summoning Ramuh a few times. Now I can continue on in this fifteen-year-old RPG that I’ve never beaten. If you’re curious, I’m at the beginning of disc three currently, and it’s actually a miracle I made the leap from disc two. I may have talked about this before, but another common reason I often walked away from Final Fantasy IX as a young gaming lad was because my disc two is scratched or damaged internally, which causes the FMV to glitch out and, occasionally, freeze. The clips after you clear away the Mist from the Iifa Tree and Kaju and Garnet’s second mother duke it out certainly skipped and stuttered, but thankfully never locked up.

Anyways, originally, I opened this post with paragraph below, but it’s been in my drafts folder for so long I felt like I needed to explain–more to myself than y’all–why I’ve been so quiet on my quest to beat Final Fantasy IX in 2015.

This might be a bold claim, but I feel pretty safe in my assumptions: the stories told in Final Fantasy IX‘s Active Time Events are more enthralling than the main plot. The even crazier thing? They are entirely miss-able, though I do not suggest you miss any of ’em.

Commonly abbreviated to ATE in the same fashion that Active Time Battle is also referred to as ATB in any roleplaying game forum, Active Time Events is a system that gives the player the ability to view short, optional scenes in Final Fantasy IX that are happening at the same time, either nearby the main cast or elsewhere in the Mist-shrouded world. The system was created by Hiroyuki Ito, the game’s director, and, possibly next to the mechanic where you level up passive and active abilities to earn them permanently, this is my favorite aspect from 2000’s throw-back entry to the Final Fantasy series.

Unlike a number of other RPGs, when you often arrive in a town, the party splits up instead of walking around together in one long line like a bunch of children in school heading out for recess. This makes logical sense in a fantasy world where there is so much to see–Vivi wants to explore, Quina is in search of new cuisine to try, and Steiner must ensure there is no danger for the princess-in-hiding up ahead. So on and so on. You’ll mostly be in control of Zidane, moving from screen to screen, and as you do, ATE will activate, prompting you to view a side story scene by title only. These titles are generally a few words long, but intriguing nonetheless, such as “Do As I Say, Not As I Do,” “Dagger Tries,” and, of course, “No Yummy-Yummies!” Watch the scene and then get back to doing what you were originally doing.

Honestly, I can’t imagine someone playing Final Fantasy IX and not viewing these additional scenes. Sure, a few are goofy and less than vital, like the ones involving Moogles or NPCs you don’t really interact with much, but the majority are staggering in the amount of info and details they reveal. Such as when Dagger tries to learn how to speak like a commoner or Vivi’s quizzical time in the Black Mage Village. Without these moments, the greater impact of the main plotline, which is not all that moving, would be lost.

Final Fantasy IX‘s ATE scenes help reveal more about the game’s story and characters, especially its villains. Another bonus from watching these events unfold is that you’ll occasionally obtain items afterwards or see locations before you visit them. All you have to do is press select, and you’re in. I know I’m going to keep doing it until the credits roll.