Yes, I realized that I’m on a bit of a Final Fantasy binge at the moment. But you see, I’ve had a rough few weeks, and Dark Souls and Assassin’s Creed III didn’t strike me as very uplifting—especially Dark Souls—and after that last series of reviews, I also needed a break from Star Wars. So what was I to do, but to bring out one of the more happy-go-lucky games of my favorite franchise? And I know that most of my reviews tend to consist of me complaining about stupid shit, because I overthink everything—and to be sure, I have some bad things to say about IX—and I also know that the general consensus of IX is that it sucks, so it’s okay if this post ends up being a good old fashioned rant, right?
Well, here’s the thing: I actually think Final Fantasy IX is one of the better Final Fantasy games.
And I’m not just saying that because I find it a guilty pleasure. I can name a lot of terrible things that I find guilty pleasures. I just legitimately think that IX is a well-made game with a lot to offer in terms of story and character development. I like the battle system, I like how equipment works, the abilities, the gameplay overall.
Yeah, you’ll find a bunch of people all over the internet—like this dude, who’s review is so blatantly misleading once I read it that I could do a whole other review addressing it—who hate IX. I’m not one of them.
So IX begins with our main character Zidane—does anyone know how to pronounce this, ‘cause I don’t and so I went with a Japanese pronunciation?—and his theatre troupe staging a plot to kidnap Princess Garnet of Alexandria for as-of-yet undisclosed reasons that we don’t find out until nearing the end of the first disk. It turns out that the monarch of Lindblum hired them, because he was concerned for her safety.
Princess Garnet, however, has also been planning on running away, because she has been becoming increasingly worried about her mother’s deteriorating sanity and certain oddities in the castle. So she quite willingly agrees to go along with Zidane. Tailing her is her trusted knight Steiner, who is more or less the comic relief and who thinks her lowlife kidnapper is a terrible person. Steiner wants to get Garnet back to Alexandria where she belongs, because he doesn’t yet realize that the queen plans to kill her.
You see, Garnet isn’t the actual princess. She’s a “replacement” princess. Shortly after the real princess died ten years ago, Garnet and her mother washed up on shore in a rickety boat from another continent, having escaped from the destruction of Madain Sari, a land with a now-almost-extinct group of people who had the abilities to summon Eidolons.
Garnet’s real mother had died during the journey, and since Garnet looks almost identical to the actual princess, the king and queen adopted her. I’m also going to assume the king is now dead, or in a coma, because he makes no appearances whatsoever. His wife is ruling alone by the time the game starts.
So Queen Brahne, turning insane and evil, plans to steal the Eidolon power from Garnet when she turns sixteen—which the queen does manage to do—and conquer the world. And using the Eidolons and an army of black mage puppet dolls, she starts taking over places. At the end of the second disk, Brahne dies, but by that time, she did conquer a whole continent. This war pulls our characters into an epic quest that they soon realize is much bigger than Queen Brahne’s conquest. The queen is being manipulated by someone, and the entire world is at stake.
And so some of you may be thinking that this sounds more like Garnet’s story than Zidane’s, and yes, for the first three disks, it really is. The Final Fantasy wiki describes Garnet as the deuterogonist of the story, meaning she’s the second most important character, but to be honest, while we can argue that the story is Zidane’s, as his existence is at the heart of this catastrophe, it’s Garnet’s plight that gets the story moving. If she hadn’t survived the attack on Madain Sari and been adopted, Brahne never would have gotten the Eidolons and Kuja’s plan wouldn’t have worked. Yeah, the summoner Eiko is still alive, but Brahne didn’t have access to her.
Furthermore, until we learn of Zidane’s past, he doesn’t really have any conflict. He more or less deals with Garnet’s conflict and helps out simply because it’s the right thing to do. And while there is an array of characters, Garnet and Vivi are the ones whose conflict drives the story.
I know a lot of people hated Garnet and found her character really annoying, though not for the reasons you may think. At one point, Alexandria gets destroyed, and she becomes so distraught over this that she ends up with a permanent silence—meaning she cannot cast spells—for a good portion of the game. So in battle, if you used her as your healer, like I did, it’s problematic because she might cast the spell, or she might not. Yeah, it’s inconvenient, but I thought it was great that this tragedy affected her so much she became a liability in battle until she recovered. I thought it said a lot about her character and the shock she was in.
Now that we’ve talked about Garnet, so let’s get into Vivi. Remember that army of black mage dolls I mentioned? Vivi’s one of them. But he’s not a mindless puppet hell bent on destruction. He “became aware” as other “aware” black mages put it. Vivi struggles with the fact that he’s a puppet, an “it”, and that his people are murderous. And he has to deal with other people hating and fearing him for existing.
At one point, our group of heroes comes across a village of nothing but black mages who all became of aware and wanted to escape from the war. But this is when Vivi learns another horrifying truth. The black mages have a lifespan of about one year, and he’s going to die soon. And all the other black mages have no concept of what death is—except for one, who tells Vivi that they both understand life and death. The black mages eventually simply stop moving, and so they bury each other. But they don’t see that as death. The one even says he wants his friend to wake up so they can hang out together again. He has no concept of what death is, but Vivi does. And at the end of the game, Vivi does die.
It’s a little ambiguous in the English version, but in the Japanese version the dialogue we read at the end of the game is very obviously Vivi saying his last goodbyes to all his friends.
And even though I flat-out love some of these characters, there is one I have to address: Quina. I don’t know its gender, because the game refers to it as “s/he.” And while that wouldn’t be a problem, it’s kind of used as a way to be flippant about who or what Quina is. There are so many times it gets separated from the group, and Zidane completely forgets about its existence. Not that I blame him; I would love to forget about it, too.
Does anyone want to take a guess as to what Quina’s motivation for joining our heroes is? Anyone?
Quina wants to eat frogs.
And yes, as the player, you can stop your journey to catch some for it.
Quina is one of those characters that just makes you wonder who was behind it. And you don’t want to look it up, because then you’ll never respect that person again. I very firmly want to believe that there were people who fought adamantly against this thing’s creation, but if they did, they were obviously shut down. It’s kind of like Jar Jar Binks. You just can’t believe someone somewhere thought it was a good idea.
Though I did get a laugh when reading an Online walkthrough, when the writer says this:
Finally give the Moogle a hand with his fishing so that he can catch the biggest, fattest, androgynousest fish you have ever seen.
And Quina aside, this game doesn’t seem very happy, despite the fact that I said it’s one of the happier games in the franchise. Well, that’s true and it’s not. The tone and the overall mood can be kind of cartoony, and so the character designs represent that. There are a lot of comic relief elements in this game that you might find in a cartoon. If you put a character designed like Squall—so more realistically—and had him crash head on into a tower like Steiner does early on in the game, it would be terrible, because we would expect Squall to die from head injuries. Steiner, on the other hand, we will accept as surviving because he absorbed all the damage with his face.
But that doesn’t mean the game can’t be deep and philosophical. The characters have real conflict, except for Quina, and the meaning of life and death is a big theme. The game goes out of its way to talk about such issues, especially with the character Vivi. And I’m glad this game has the more cartoony design and that we get those cheesy comic relief elements, because without them, Final Fantasy IX would be overly depressing.
I think for everything that goes on in this game, it was done remarkably well, and I definitely recommend this one. If you haven’t played it, you should give it a shot. Maybe you’ll hate it, but I hope you don’t.