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I'm playing through all of Final Fantasy, and everyone is invited (Playing FF X now)

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
Congrats on the finish, Felix! Looking forward to the wrap-up post.

Kiros and Ward look so different, when you meet them here, in their aid uniforms. And we finally meet Laguna. If you have Selphie with you, there is a cute bit where she is starstruck by seeing him. It's really sweet.
I love that Kiros and Ward adopt Esthar's clothing, but Laguna's outfit is a polo shirt, chinos and sandals. Very presidential.

After the fight, Ellone sends Rinoa and Ultimecia as one back, but brings Rinoa back to us. And the compression starts. Stuff happens, and we decide to meet at the orphanage.

But before we get there, we find ourselfs at the room in Deling City, where Rinoa and Edea first met. The savepoint works, but weirdly multiplies. Then, fake Edea gets out of the chair, multiplies, and we fight multiple sorceresses, most of them pretty weak.
I just want to point out that this section has my favourite track in the game (the aptly named "Compression of Time").

So, I'm probably not the only one who thinks that this is the best final dungeon in the whole series, if not one of the best in all of JRPG history? The design alone is amazing, and reminds me, once more, of more horror oriented games, like Resident Evil, or even Castlevania (due to its belltower). Sealing our abilities, and giving us a bit of a boss rush, where we have to find the bosses by exploring the castle, is just fun design. And I don't know, if you can reach Ultimecia without unlocking anything, but it's nice that you basically can decide how much you want to explore and unlock. Well, not unlocking anything probably wouldn't work, she is simply too strong for that, even if junctioning itself isn't gone.
100% with you and gorha on this. Brilliant dungeon, both aesthetically and mechanically. It's a pretty long dungeon (or at least it took me longer than I expected), but because so much of it is technically optional, and each path gives you a reward (unlocking an ability), it never drags on.

Ultimecia, though, was horribly brutal, took forever, had tricks that are just mean and is simply a really, really difficult boss. I don't remember that. The other times, I only fought bosses, so my levels were probably below ten, and even without the Lionheart, these final battles were easy. I at least don't remember them to be hard. This time, though? Absolutely brutal. Which is interesting, as there are many people on the internet who find her pretty easy.
I did find her a pushover, but that was because at this point I had everyone junctioned with the best spells. I'm assuming you played without trying to completely destroy the game's balance, so it's interesting to hear an account of how the fight plays out in a normal playthrough.

Zell finally gets his hotdogs, and nearly suffocates on them.
I believe it was Anton Chekhov who said that you must never include hot dogs in a story if they don't get eaten.

My interpretation of this scene is that it is Squall experiencing the brunt of the effects of time compression, even as it is unravelling. In my mind, the scene matches the description Ultimecia gives at the end of her last phase:
Oh, great observation! I didn't clue in that Squall's journey there reflects Ultimecia's speech almost exactly.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
My interpretation of this scene is that it is Squall experiencing the brunt of the effects of time compression, even as it is unravelling. In my mind, the scene matches the description Ultimecia gives at the end of her last phase:

(It feels as if the translator was lacking context when translating this (battle text was probably separate from the main script), though the general mood is well conveyed.)

Squall is left alone to himself in a desolate, shrinking universe, with his leather boots nothing more than clown shoes against the gaping void. With nothing to hold on to, even his memories are stripped away from him before he finally breaks.

Time compression, the nonsensical science-fantasy plot device that none of the main cast could convincingly comprehend, turned out to be an exactingly precise literalization of Squall's deepest fears --- of having friends and comradery, only for it to all be taken away as he is abandoned and consigned to oblivion. Time compression is Squall's depression.

And yet, as the intro states, Rinoa was waiting for him and indeed found him.

(idk if this is coming across correctly but thinking about this gets me worked up like few other things do. it's a beautiful ending and i think about it very often.)
This is a very nice interpretation, and I think it DOES come through, that you at least have thought about this very much. Thanks!

I love that Kiros and Ward adopt Esthar's clothing, but Laguna's outfit is a polo shirt, chinos and sandals. Very presidential.
It's very Laguna. Considering how he became the president there, his way of dressing and acting feels very true to this loveable dork.

-------------------------------------------------

Well, that took a bit. Time to finish this.

As mentioned already, I enjoyed this playthrough a lot, and it probably changed my viewpoint of the game more than with any other FF (with IV being the only contender here, but I understood that game better than I did this one).

One thing that I found surprising and delightful is, how many callbacks are already in this one. I always thought it was IX that did this first, celebrating the series to a big extend (and I guess it does it even more extensive than VIII does), but we have callbacks to all former FFs, in some way. Stuff that is not necessarily important, and just there as little nudges for fans. Or simply new ways of trying certain systems. Lets take a look. Please feel free to add more to this list:

FF I: We have a closed-off time-loop again.
FF II: A former friend, now working for the Evil Empire. Also, mechanically, a system where you can make everyone into more-or-less anything you want.
FF III: Another villain, who doesn't want to let her existence end. Also, Hein. Remember the amazing sprite-work in III?
FF IV: The Moon and Space as the place that monsters come from. And, of course, the friend who switches sides, simply because it reused this from II.
FF V: The Minotaur Brothers. Also the way this group feels so much like a group of friends, who make fun of each other in a non-hostile way.
FF VI: Having your party split up. Especially how it is done in the final dungeon here, where you control two different parties, which can explore the castle independently. Also, the way how dead party members are replaced by fit ones, in the final battle. Also, also, Angelo fills a similar role as Interceptor.
FF VII: I think, some of Zells attacks are named like the ones from Tifa? Certainly also used a hit that included Dolphins.

Maybe I'm overthinking this, but I'm doing nothing but that, since starting this thread, so why not. Stuff like including Hein (as a mythological figure even) and the Minotaur Brothers was certainly really cool. I'm very much looking forward to finally getting most of the references in IX now (and still missing many, probably).

Let's talk characters now. Because this game got some good ones.

Squall

I still remember, how people always argued that he is just another version of Cloud, or something. People probably still think that, I guess. Which is a very superficial way of looking at both of them. On a simple level, Cloud is a very active person, always driven, and leads the party from a pretty early point on. Or, more precisely, he has his goal (finding Sephiroth), and, while not objecting to the others following him, he would probably go alone, if necessary.
Squall is always pushed to act. He never wants to be a leader, he actively doesn't want people around him, because he can't really take them. He does things, because he feels like he has to, just for others. But it's, up to the point where he carries Rinoa to Esthar, never a desire for him to do something. He just does what others want.
I also think, that he is a very fine example of slow, careful character development. Most things in the game are not bombastic, but slow, taking their time, and his development is pretty much in this vein. There is never this clear point, where he has a breakthrough, it's just small steps that mainly Rinoa pushes him through.
Despite not wanting to be one, he is a very good leader, maybe the best one the game offered, up to this point. He is, from the start, someone who cares for people who need help, or are under his command, which is very different from, say, Terra, who is just a piece in the game of war in VI, or Bartz, who is just along for the ride. And he never questions the competence of Selphie or Quistis. Not a criticism at these other leaders, just as a comparison that, for once, we actually have someone as the main character who does lead the party.
His character is even more expended upon, by having to mirrors of him. Laguna feels like a light mirror, showing us what Squall could be, if he weren't weighted down by his trauma. Another great leader, another dork, another person who does everything to help the people who need him. It's really bitter, that this is the person who is probably very responsible for Squall trauma, despite never trying to.
Seifer is the dark mirror, someone who wants to become what Squall will, and sacrifices everything. Even his dream, without realizing it, at the end. If Squall hadn't been so driven, to make sure no one suffers in the same way he does, he might have become like Seifer. Or, maybe if he had watched that movie as a child, something like that.
It's excellent, how the game shows us different sides of Squall - the professional one, that he puts on at all times (at least for as long as it is possible), and his true personality, that is bitter. Maybe the game was a bit too subtle, considering that people seem to not realize that, most of the snarky stuff, he only thinks.
I feel like I could go on, but this is already pretty long. To summarize, Squall is great character, a great leader, and I enjoyed his journey a lot. I also feel like he is maybe the most complex character, the series created up to now? Very well done.

Quistis

Love her, awesome, intelligent, snarky, competent, bossy, still with a delightful sense of humor. Her arc isn't long, but I don't think that's a bad thing. The game focuses mostly on Squalls and Rinoas development, I think that's fine.
Her having Blue Magic fits pretty well, considering that she seems like someone who craves knowledge (am I making this up? Maybe that is just what I think of, when I hear prodigy). Or maybe it fits, because she is smart enough to learn a technique, when she just has the piece of a monster that is responsible for it? Anyway...
Her interactions with Squall are a delight, especially early on, where she clearly shows affection for him, but also makes fun of him in a friendly way. The way she is always self-assured, ready to make a joke and relaxed makes it all the better, when she does dress someone down, like she does with Irvine and Rinoa at two points.
I do find her emotions for Squall interesting, in that she confuses her platonic, but strong, emotions for him with romantic ones. Feels very fitting, for a teenager.
The moment at the end of the first mission, where she shoots the crab-machine thing to pieces, is pretty badass. Favourite character.

Zell

I don't think, he actually has an arc? Not a criticism, I was just wondering, but he never seems to have a small story-, or even character-development-arc, just for him. I still enjoy what we got here. As goofy and dumb as he can seem, he clearly shows a lot of competency, partly in having way more knowledge than one might expect (like about certain towns), and can absolutely be counted on in a crisis situation (like in the Desert Prison). The bits about him we learn are delightful, whenever we are in Balamb City. I just love how the school is close to his home, and that he has a loving, caring mother, who is nothing more than a regular, good mother. Bonus points for treating him absolutely like her own son, despite him being adopted. It's always delightful, when we see how much he tries to be a badass, when it's so, so obvious that he isn't.
I still love you Zell.
Again, his limit breaks fit his personality. He feels a bit hyper-active, and has trouble sitting down. So it works well, that you can string an insane number of powerful punches in one, single attack.

Selphie

I adore her. Another character who seems like an airhead at times, downright batshit in others (I bet she is just saying her absurd things, so she can have fun with the others dumbstruck reactions), and then absolutely competent when it counts.
Visiting her old Garden was very enjoyable. It feels, like she had a very expansive, social life there. No surprise - she is obviously someone who puts herself out there, and just pushes herself onto others (not necessarily in a bad way, but I could see her getting annoying).
I'm not sure, if her limit break really fits her personality. But then, someone who just hits random buttons on a spaceship, and then gets it to fly, might be a bit of a gambler. It's a nice limit break, and The End is super funny.

Irvine

He still doesn't work for me. I do love, how you get additional information about him later, which explains why he has trouble shooting Edea. It gives the whole scene just a lot more depth and power. I love that the game mentions the idea of the lonely sniper, who decides if something works, just by one single pull of a trigger. These are very cool and interesting details, that give his character more depth.
Unfortunately, he also has this annoying trait about being a Ladys Man nonsense, or something, and I'm REALLY tired of this trope. Thankfully, it isn't there too much, and I love Quistis' reaction to it. Still, really bad first impression, that he never recovered from, for me. I honestly feel like I would have liked a bit more from him (the interesting parts of his personality), but, well, there is enough loner-stuff in Squall.
I never used his Limit Break, but it is pretty obvious how it plays into his character.

Rinoa

Her arc is great. I find her to be a very believable teenager, who tries to do something good, but has absolutely no idea how to actually do it, not at all understanding, in what a dangerous situation she brings everyone.
But she has a very nice arc, where, similar to Squall, develops step by step. Again, there is no big, bombastic moment, just this small, incremental changes, which lead her to, at some point, seeming to suddenly understand the danger of a situation, and that she isn't the center of everything.
I'm glad, that there is so much there, because she is also a lot there, just so Squall can develop. But it feels true, here, like she still has her own stuff, and that she is simply a love-struck teen, who really, really wants to spend time with this emo guy.
I do think, that the game puts her a bit too often into the helpless damsel position, but she is also very active, so that's not too much of a problem. Her reaction to realizing, that she is a sorceress, feels very true, and tells us everything we need to know about how society treats these women. Before, she was a normal person, that no one cared really about (well, she has her friends and family, but she isn't on the worlds radar). Now, suddenly, despite her having done no wrong, she has these powers, so she is immediately a criminal. It's no wonder, that people like Ultimecia and Adel go on the offensive. Not to defend them becoming horrible dictators, just saying that there is something VERY wrong in this society. But I already talked a lot about how this setting plays around a lot with the idea of a witchhunt.
The detail about her having a dog, in a world where they can make you invincible (according to an in-universe magazine) is delightful. Angelo is the best dog.

Ultimecia

Great villain. I think I talked already a lot about how I love her (at least I think?). I certainly did about how I see her as not just an antagonist, but also as a victim of a society which has as it's ultimate endpoint an all-out war.
I still wonder, how did she start out? How did the world look like, when she is born? Is it already a war-broken wasteland? Is there nothing left, but small pockets of society, looking in panic for the next sorceress, who might become Ultimecia?
I think, similar to how Kefka did sort-of-but-not-really win, she also does. She wants to compress time, and is in a position that makes it impossible to not let it happen. The world isn't quite destroyed, but it's in a state of...let's call it stasis, I guess? There is nothing left of it, and she reigns supreme, about a castle full of monsters. Society rejected her, and in her ideal world, she rejects society, in a dark, cold castle, where it's always night.
Her power is so impressive, that she can even play around with game mechanics, like our abilities and who will fight her first. She takes things that we know, like junctioning, and invents new ways of doing them. She even invents a new spell on the fly, in the last phase of her battle. Maybe that's why she junctioned herself onto Grieva, instead of the other way around, so the resulting monster could draw from the power of a sorceress? Something like that.
But again, the game doesn't just show her as the insanely powerful magician, who can manipulate the world through all of time. It also shows her as a beaten person, weak and just wanting to get some rest and piece, so she can die. And she gets it. She gets, at the very end, the empathy she would have needed throughout her live. I do think this scene, where Edea just takes her power, is very powerful. It mirrors Rinoa a bit, when she asks if there isn't a different way to solve the problem, instead of attacking Edea.
But fighting is all we know. And it's all that Ultimecia knows. Everyone told her, that her power is derived from the devil, and that she, therefore, is condemned to die, or live in captivity. How else is she even supposed to react, to a world that hates her, and will never let her live a simple life?
I wished the game wouldn't show Adel as this pure, antagonistic force. Seifer, Edea and Ultimecia are shown some mercy, they get some empathy. Adel doesn't. It's a shame, considering how the game tries to make sure, that we know that our enemies are often also victims on their own.
I think, she might be my favourite antagonist, now?

----------------------------------------------

I hope, that it is clear that I really like the characters. I could write more about people like Seifer, Cid and Laguna, but this is already way too long, and I feel like I said most of the stuff already in my posts.
To summarize, I think this game has excellent characters with excellent chemistry.

Dungeons

One small bit about the dungeons. This game really runs all kinds, from godawful (sewers, desert prison), over kind-of interesting (Odins tower, however it was called, the tomb of the Brothers) to maybe my favourite JRPG dungeon (Ultimecias Castle, of course).
I don't like dungeons much, in general. FF has some nice ones, but on the whole, I prefer to spend my time in towns and the overworld, in set-pieces, talking with NPCs and stuff like that. Dungeons are nice from time to time, but only as nice additions, never the main thing for me. I especially dislike final dungeons, because at this point, I want to get to the boss, but have to make it through tons of hard encounters. At this point, I'm often emotionally so invested, that I want to experience the conclusion of the story. Instead, I have to wait for one or two hours, doing nothing but irrelevant fights and my emotional investment turns into being annoyed.
Not here. I can turn off random encounters (I nearly never used it, this time, but love this ability so, so much), I get boss battles, but can decide which ones to do, explore an amazing looking place, use multiple parties, maybe solve a puzzle or two, and can even create my own difficulty level for the final boss.
I'm very sure, that this is my absolutely favourite final dungeon of the series.

Systems

I really like the junction system, and how much it allows the player to do with the characters. My only gripe is, that I find it basically impossible to find a way, to play the game as intended. I know, especially with this game, such a way probably doesn't exist, aside from "break it how you want". But, with a bit of understanding, it seems impossible not to break this game. Fine by me, I like being overpowered, just a bit of a shame.
I'm not even sure, how to structure this. There are just way too many systems, and they are too intertwined to talk about them on their own, I feel like. For example, Triple Triad is fun, but soon turns either trivial or frustrating, I found, and the main reasons I played it were mainly completionistic. Which I should stop, I never really get EVERYTHING. Still, was fun. The point I wanted to make was, that I can't talk about TT without talking about how it is important for the characters. It's great, how it offers a possibility to trivialize the game early on, if you know what you are doing.
Limit Breaks are cool, and I like how they work. Only used them intentionally in edge cases (specifically: Tonberries, because they are the worst, that red dragon with Laguna, because the game undid my junctions, and the final battle, because I had trouble). Elsewise, if you don't actively try to get them, they work pretty much like the ones in VI - sometimes, if a battle runs bad, you get one, but it's rare. It's great, that you can game the system, but it's absolutely not necessary, and I think I prefer it that way. They are cool to look at, but, similar to summons, they get old fast.
Speaking of, nice to have the summons, and I think I used them for a relatively long time (I think through the first disc?), but you soon get better, faster ways to deal with monsters. Still, the summon animations are great, some of them absolutely delightful, and I love that the game even offers you a mini-game, so you can focus on them. And then, you will die horribly at Adel or Ultimecia, because they won't really let you do it this way. Kind of mean.

The World

I still find it pretty empty, but my headcanon is now, that this is due to all the wars that happened, over the decades. All the witchhunts, and sorceresses trying to take over. And, of course, monsters landing on the planet, from time to time.
I like, how the setting is pretty harsh, that it's not really a nice world to live in, but that it doesn't feel that way. It is a calm game, it wants you to take your time, to maybe even go outside, and to explore. Not to focus just on the main mission.
For that, it offers a bunch of things to actually find, which is really fun. This ranges from dungeons, which offer new GFs, to bizarre side quests, like one where you talk to lying stones, or something. I only read about them, and it sounds delightful, but actually doing it sounds mainly irritating.
There is even a whole city, that you never have to enter, and that doesn't have much to offer, if you only think in terms of gameplay. It only offers context, that you don't even need, but is very nice to have. Shumi Village is a very neat place, and I enjoyed its multi-part side-story really enjoyable.

-----------------------------------------------

I think, for now, that's all. Maybe I'll add something later, if I forgot something I really wanted to talk about. Elsewise, I'll take a bit more of a break (I guess 2-4 weeks?), and then start FF IX. Which I'm very much looking forward to - it has been my favourite FF for a long time, but I also haven't played it in something like 15 years. I'm very curious, how much I still like it.

FF VIII is great, but is still probably one FF that I won't revisit that often. At this point, I simply seem to prefer the 2D games, and can't even explain why, at the moment. Well, we'll see. In any case, replaying this game was a joy.

Thanks for reading and writing.
 

Torzelbaum

????? LV 13 HP 292/ 292
(he, him, his)
The detail about her having a dog, in a world where they can make you invincible (according to an in-universe magazine) is delightful. Angelo is the best dog.
I had never thought of this before but I wonder if this was based on the idea of witches having animal familiars.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
Virtue - You don't need a reason to help people.
Sorrow - How do you prove that you exist? Maybe we don't exist?
Dilemma - Having sworn fealty, must I spend my life in servitude?
Indulgence - I do what I want! You have problem!?
Devotion - Someday, I will be queen, but I will always be myself.
Despair - To be forgotten is worse than death.
Arrogance - The only dependable thing about the future is uncertainty.
Solitude - I don't wanna be alone anymore​

FF IX has a very special place in my heart. It feels like the quintessential Final Fantasy to me, despite lacking the very thing that defined the series from the very start: Trying new things, inventing itself new. This game doesn't do that, or only in small ways. The main focus is a celebration of the series, taking a look back and referencing itself in a multitude of ways.

Before playing this game, I had already played the SNES games. I think at this point, IV and V didn't make a particularly strong impression on me, while VI was one of my favourite JRPGs and games ever. It was 2005 (I think, plus/minus one year), when I bought this game (it certainly was the first FF that I actually bought). It immediately enthralled me, with its light-hearted mood, humor and delightful quirks. I will talk about this more, as I progress through the game. But even starting this game up, listening to the menu song, makes me nostalgic. I love this song. I recently heard Greensleeves described as the sound of a british fairy tale, and this sounds similar to me. Not a music person, so I can't add more details, but it does sound ominous and promising to me.

I did find all the chocograph locations (is that the term? I forgot), and generally think of Chocobo Hot'n'Cold, with all it includes, as my favourite FF minigame. Aside from that, I enjoy very much that Moogles are just one of the many races here, nothing weird or special, and the inclusion of Chocobos, too, is probably my favourite in the series. Plus, I always loved animal people.

A few years later, I replayed it (let's say 2008). I used a guide, to get all the missables in the game (which included a few items, accessible through moogles which will vanish later on, and the whole Mognet sidequest. Never even did find all the chocograph locations then, after beating the game, I stopped.

I never collected all the cards, and also never defeated Ozma. I certainly won't do the former, even though I do enjoy Tetra Master. I'll try to beat Ozma, but no promises.

One more word on the eight lines I used to start this post with. The game doesn't make a mystery about your playable characters, and even gives the player information about their personality. Ranging from the deeply philosophical to the goofy (but still philosophical, if you want).

Warning: I will look for references EVERWHERE. Consider yourself warned. Also, probably a lot of nostalgia.

-----------------------------------------

We start with a daydream, a memory, of a small boat in a storm, lost at sea, with two characters, obscured by the darkness and their clothes, fearing for their lives.

But that isn't long lived. Soon, we switch to princess Garnet, sitting near her window, dressed up in a regal gown. It's a beautiful day outside, a sunny sky and birds, flying through the sky. Following them, and getting a look at the city of Alexandria, we move to a beautiful looking airship.

As mentioned, this time, I realized how much that already reminded me of a Disney movie, about their version of a fairytale. I was reminded of princess Jasmin, when seeing Garnet.

Inside the airship, we see Zidane, entering a room. His tail immediately sticks out (together with the unrealistic proportions, his head being clearly bigger than it would realistically be), and we are shown that we are not in a world, that is supposed to reflect our real world. This is clearly a fantasy world, even though it is a mixture of medieval and industrial.

Inside the room, it is dark, which Zidane comments on. The way he speaks, with a talking bubble, very much like in a cartoon, including the little corner pointing to him, and the used font, give this even more of a cute feeling. And finally, when something can be interacted with, another bubble pops up, either with an exclamation or a question mark. Granted, in the last two, or even three, games, this wouldn't have fit in. Here, it totally does.

The detail here, by the way, is amazing. I still find it incredible, how lived in and beautiful this game looks. Not that surprising anymore, after what we saw VII and VIII accomplish, but I think it is even a bit better here.

51935759678_f2fc02cb57_z.jpg


So many little things, including the clothes in the corner and the stuff in the back. I have no idea if this is just nostalgia or if this really is as inviting as it seems. Personally, I love looking at the places the game offers.

Out of the door, his three colleagues appear, befor from the left, a guy with a dragon mask turns up. And we get into our first fight.

It's the first time we get a four-person party since FF VI. It is also the first time, that I am glad about that. While I still don't mind parties of three, four members just gives you a little bit more leeway in how to structure it, and how to specialize your characters. I sweet spot for me, in a regular JRPG. Five starts to seem a bit unweildy to me.

The fight is trivial, but one of your members is pretty weak, and gets one-shotted. There is no danger for the others here, that this happens to them too, so I guess it is just there to serve as a small tutorial for people maybe dying.

Also, aside from Attack and Flee (and Zidanes special, consisting of Flee), every character can steal. So, the game immediately makes clear that: a) these are thieves, and b) stealing is a THING here. I never dealt much with that in the earlier games, because it just seems like more of a hassle than it's worth. The stuff you can steal is so often useless, with a few exception that are best looked up.

I do like, how they solved it here, by giving especially bosses a bunch of items, and often one of them being pretty useful (at least I remember it that way). It creates a nice risk-reward setup, where you can either get nice equipment early on (like the Mage Masher here), with the cost of making the battles longer. I do plan on stealing everything from bosses, though I might change my mind, if that gets too annoying.

Soon, the mask splits in half, and Baku, the boss of the thieves, stops and starts a meeting, to discuss their mission. I love how he built a little model castle (like Rinoa did, except no one makes fun of him here), and even uses a handpuppet, when talking about kidnapping Garnet. It's delightful. As is the way he starts his talk. "Tantalus, the infamous band of daring thieves (that's us)...". There is already so much life in this scene, so much love and fun.

We also learn from Cinna, the weak fighter of the group (who makes up for this by being good with technical details), that we will dock at Alexandria, perform the popular play "I Want to Be Your Canary", and use this to kidnap Garnet in the process.

As a warning, I will look for references EVERYWHERE, and point them out. So, maybe this is one to the start of FF VII, where we have a malicious plan (kidnapping a princess), except that the game makes immediately clear that we are not bad people.

We can have a bit of fun, and let Zidane say that we want to kidnap Queen Brane. Which results in Baku falling for it for a few seconds, and even putting on ANOTHER hand puppet.

51936297190_58fd726e3b_z.jpg


I love that he included her fan, even though she seems to be a bird, instead of a human(?).

With that, we switch perspectives, a bit like we did in VI. Maybe the little scenes, that let us look at people no in our party and that I love so much, are another take on the moment where we had three stories to play, there?

In any case, we see the most adorable Black Mage ever (who is also the first one we see, with this getup, since FF V - it's been a while), Vivi. Awesome music plays, as we see him in Alexandria, as the airship from Tantalus flies by. Another scene that reminded me a ton of the beginning of a Disney movie. Simply this, that it feels like these cartoons, might have to do a lot with me loving this game so much.

We get the chance to explore the city a bit, and learn that also the common people like to watch plays, but they have to do it from far away, on the rooftops. There is also a statue of General Madelene, who fought in the 9th Lindblum War, in 1389, at the age of 13. Uh, that's a bit young. She also died in 1401, with and age of 25. Must have been a pretty brutal war.

I do like, how this immediately gives us, if we look for it, the sense that this game has an actual History, that it is a kingdom that fought in wars and remembers its heroes. Also, the guards here are women, which is nice.

To be clear, there are already problematic elements at play, like the weird, exposing uniforms these female guards wear. Also, Zidane, as much as I like him, has this annoying character trait of being a womanizer. I don't know how much it plays into the game, and I will not talk about it furthermore (except if it keeps happening, or in really bad cases). Just wanted to make clear that I'm aware of these things.

When going a bit further, a rat kid bumps into Vivi. He is one of the many kids, probably many of them street kids. So, while the game clearly shows us characters who are in socially problematic situations, it also romantizises them, and I think it never breaks this romantization. The rat kid is just a street smart guy, helping Vivi soon.

In a bar, we see a Red Mage.

51935760518_7c76eff6d3_o.png


Not the best picture, but I love to see the classical classes again. The hat alone makes clear who this guy is, but his class is also his name. Speaking of names, I was surprised how many characters, even unimportant NPCs, have actualy names.

The love for details also shows itself by the amount of characters, just moving around, including birds landing and flying all the time. This feels like a lived-in city, even more so than the ones in the previous games.

When visiting the item shop, I find my first 38 gil on the floor. Like the stuff you find lying around in the older games, except now, the game tells you with an exclamation mark bubble. I think VII and VIII had stuff like that, but there was never any indication. I'm, to be honest, not sure if there was stuff like money simply lying around. I do remember this being the case in the older games, especially III, so this does count as a callback for me. It certainly feels nice. Even if these things were in VII and VIII, without tiles, it is so much harder to look everywhere. Giving you an indication when you are there seems like a nice compromise.

There is also the jump-rope minigame, and I get up to 80, or so, winning 10 gil and a cactuar card. I think, back in the day, I made it to 200, or whatever the number was, when the speed changed with each jump. That was always the point where I gave up.

In the inn, we have a nice scene of someone storming out, as his reservation seems to have been lost. On the docks, a boatsman talks about mist-powered airships. I immediately get reminded of the machines in IV and V, but it works in VI and VII too, of course. Simply again, we use a source of nature(?), something we don't understand, and make new technology with it. Not a reference, this is just FF being FF. Stuff like this has been with the series since it started, in one way or another.

At the ticket booth, where we need to get a stamp, Vivi learns that his ticket is a fake. To cheer him up (people think, Vivi is a kid, due to his small size), the booth guy gives him a few Tetra Master cards, and tells us that Alleyway Jack knows how to play. I, uh, forgot to look for him, because I had explored before, and didn't want to do it again.

In a sidestreet, we meet the rat kid again, who offers to get us into the show, if we become his slave. We start, by helping him stealing a ladder, which we use to climb a tower. And Vivi is nearly crushed by a Moogle.

I love Moogles. And I think, like Chocobos, this is their best interpretation. They are super-cute, especially Stilzkin, with his leopard(?)-getup. Who meets the first Moogle, Kupo, and tells him that he will be gone for some time, but that he will write.

Saving is nicely integrated into the world, by letting Moogles write about our journey in their diaries. I always loved, how they jumped, and threw these fat books onto the ground, then slowly gliding down. We can also learn about Mognet, which doesn't seem to work too well, and therefore take on the task of delivering letters. I always liked the sidequest, even though I don't enjoy the missable letters here.

Soon we enter the castle, and I think it was here, when I took this screenshot:

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I caught a bad moment, as the screen just switched to something else, which explains thes lines near the top. But, as I now noticed, there are two moons, like in FF IV. Weren't they also red and blue?

We see Queen Brane, looking forward to the play, and Garnet, looking unhappy. Steiner actually notices it, which makes him distraught.

I love how we basically start the game with a play (and have our group of thieves also act as actors - I guess that's actually their main line of work, considering that they actually are nice people?), an idea that probably references the opera in VI.

First, we have a playfight, where our special abilities create nice-looking, special effects. They are variations of actual spells, like a small meteor and a fire spell, but they do no damage.

Next, there is the play-duel, where we have to push the correct buttons as fast as possible. At my third try, I get every press, but probably was too slow. Only 94 of the 100 nobles were impressed, but Queen Brane was at least one of them. Oh, well. Despite trying this a lot, in my last playthrough, I just couldn't get an approval rate of 100. Perfecting these minigames is pretty hard. I still like them.

Next, Zidane and Blank knock out two male guards, and steal their armor. I do like, how the game has all these female guards as very competent, and the guys being doffuses, mirroring Steiner and Beatrix, who respectively lead the male and the female guards. It's simply nice, to have competent female characters and also comic relief through the male ones. And it's not like Steiner is incompetent, as we will see as the game progresses.

I also think that it's not ideal, showing men as bumbling idiots isn't great. I do think the game has enough competent guys, that is isn't really a problem.

At this point, Zidane runs into Garnet, who is dressed as a White Mage, but she eludes him.

A short switch to the poor-mans Kefkas, Thorn and Zorn, the really creepy jesters of Queen Brane. Even their squabbling doesn't make them less creepy, I think. They tell the queen, that Garnet is gone. Who doesn't seem to care, and probably didn't even realize her daughter has gone from her side. She only starts to care, when she learns that Garnet took some kind of magical, royal stone.

So, Steiner and Beatrix are tasked with finding Garnet. And we now control Steiner. The third character we control, in such a short time. I love it. While I can see getting annoyed by his cluncking, it is a very nice touch. As is the silly metal feather in his metal hat.

I always loved Steiner. Such a funny, bumbling, yet still competent, character.

As him, we can explore the castle, and find, for example, the library. The scholars don't look like they did in the 2D games (I'm actually a bit disappointed), and remind me more of creepy clowns. We find one of Steiners guys in the library, who decides that this is the best moment to tell his boss, that he never wanted to be a guard. He wants to quit, so he can follow his dream: Writing fantasy novels.

I fee you, man. But Steiner screams at him, that this isn't the right time. Funnily enough, the guard screams in terror, when running away.

Also, in kitchen, we find someone:

51935760453_294aa440b0_w.jpg


I'm not sure if this is Quina, or just another person from their race, but I'll just go with the former. Nice, little touch.

On top of a tower, we see Zidane running after Garnet, who jumps off by grabbing a string. Zidane and Steiner follow, the latter crushes into a wall. Made me laugh, I like the humor of this game.

By the way, maybe it's coincidence, but, like FF I, this game starts with the kidnapping of a princess.

When Zidane finally catches up with Garnet, she asks him, to be kidnapped. I remembered, but this had to be a nice twist on the first playthrough. Still, we flee some more from Steiner, until all three are on stage. Baku tells them to play along, and Garnet shows, again, that she is pretty great, by doing just that. Baku also acts like Steiner, who has no idea what's going on, is Schneider, the prince who the princess in the play should marry.

Garnet is still in her White Mage cloak, so Brane doesn't realize it's her, and is extatic. She enjoys the play very much.

At this moment, guards realize that Vivi is here, and hunt him away, which leads him on stage. Trying to scare the guards away, he casts a fire spell, but unintentionally sets Garnets cloak on fire. She throws it off, and Brane realizes it's her. Still, we continue the play, and have to fight Steiner. Garnet, interestingly, already has a few summons (including the new boss-became-summon Atmos), but doesn't have nearly enough MP to actually summon them.

After the fight, Tantalus flies away. Branes hooks don't work, so she lets a bomb be thrown. Which splits, and out comes the bomb-monster, funny touch. Another fight against Steiner follows, only that this time, the bomb is part of the battle. We don't have to do anything, it just grows, and everyone tells Steiner about it, with him not believing them. Until it explodes.

It is pretty harsh, how Brane cares so little for Garnet, that she doesn't care if she dies in the explosion.

Still, we do get away (I guess the airship is pretty well built), but have to crash-land in the near forest. And Brane tells Thorn and Zorn to use their experiment, to get Garnet back.

----------------------------------------------

Next time: Creepy Woods
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
At the ticket booth, where we need to get a stamp, Vivi learns that his ticket is a fake. To cheer him up (people think, Vivi is a kid, due to his small size), the booth guy gives him a few Tetra Master cards, and tells us that Alleyway Jack knows how to play. I, uh, forgot to look for him, because I had explored before, and didn't want to do it again.
Alleyway Jack literally walks by you as Puck is making off with the ladder. And if you let him get close but don't talk to him he can rob you. Nice li'l bit of foreshadowing for his appearance in Treno's A.T.E. bits.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
Before this thread moves on entirely, I just want to say that I'm glad you enjoyed Final Fantasy VIII. It can be a weird and alienating game, but I think there's a lot to love about it.

VIII has, I think, the best character writing in the series. I love Squall as a protagonist: he's afforded so much interiority, and it really goes a long way in selling his character arc. Certainly he's not the first (and won't be the last) to have insecurities, but being privy to his thoughts, and seeing how he's constantly wrestling with his emotions and second-guessing himself, really sets him apart. It makes his development that much more fascinating to watch unfold, as it's often signified not by some sort of action, but just how he reflects upon a certain action.

And while the rest of the party don't get anywhere near the same attention, they don't feel undeveloped, either. The game does a good job at not only giving them enough character beats to make them feel like characters, but also do it in such a way that it always feel suggestive of something more— like the character has their own stuff going on, we just aren't privy to it. Even Selphie seems to more going on than you'd expect from the wacky comedy relief girl.

The only real issue I have with the writing is that the three-person party; so much of the game requires you bench a character (or two, or three), which obviously limits how much you see of them. Most of the game, I had a Squall-Rinoa-Selphie party, which meant I missed out on a lot of characterization from the other three. Which sucks, though it inadvertently gave the idea — in my playthrough — that Squall counts Selphie as among his closest friends, which is a very funny thought.

Also, completely agreed on Ultimecia. To me, she has a similar presence that II's Emperor did: you spend the entire game hearing about her and seeing all the chaos and destruction she causes, but the woman herself remains elusive; only at the end do you meet her face-to-face, and she's this incredibly striking figure who commands attention — even in a game already bursting with charismatic villains. Truly one of the series' best.



Anyway, Final Fantasy IX! I've actually been looking forward to this one, because I plan to play along. If you'll indulge me a bit:

Final Fantasy IX was the second game in the series that I played. As you might expect, I missed virtually all the allusions and references to earlier titles. Now, I don't think that's a problem; the game clearly has more in mind than just being a series celebration, and the the references were subtle enough that I never felt like I was missing anything, so it never affected my enjoyment of it. But as I played more games in the series, I'd see things and go "hey, I bet IX was referencing this." So I've long thought it'd be interesting to go back to IX with knowledge of the other games under my belt — not to re-assess it, just to see what I could pick out. And since last year (thanks to this thread!) I finally played III, now I've got all the experience I need.

Also it's been nearly a decade since I played it, so that's a reason too. Either way, I'm looking forward to playing this one again, and following along with your reports to see if there were any references I missed. I'll start in the next few days, I think.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
The only real issue I have with the writing is that the three-person party; so much of the game requires you bench a character (or two, or three), which obviously limits how much you see of them. Most of the game, I had a Squall-Rinoa-Selphie party, which meant I missed out on a lot of characterization from the other three. Which sucks, though it inadvertently gave the idea — in my playthrough — that Squall counts Selphie as among his closest friends, which is a very funny thought.
Yeah, it's a shame. But it also creates some replay value, so you get something new. Or maybe a different experience for different people, who play at the same time. VII had something similar (just think of the town that got destroyed, when the reactor blew up, where you only have one chance to get some additional dialogue, if you take Aerith and Tifa with you).

Also, completely agreed on Ultimecia. To me, she has a similar presence that II's Emperor did: you spend the entire game hearing about her and seeing all the chaos and destruction she causes, but the woman herself remains elusive; only at the end do you meet her face-to-face, and she's this incredibly striking figure who commands attention — even in a game already bursting with charismatic villains. Truly one of the series' best.
Comparing her to the Emperor works really well, nice observation. You know, the Emperor still has a special place in my head, as one of my favourite antagonists of the series. I guess it's similar to Horror, where your mind makes up things that are way scarier than anything the camera could actually show. Similar here - not seeing him created this image of this powerful, untouchable antagonist (that he uses the forces of Hell helps, too). And yeah, Ultimecia works pretty similar, even though you get a bit more from her, especially if you know that you see her, not Edea, on the first two discs.


Anyway, Final Fantasy IX! I've actually been looking forward to this one, because I plan to play along. If you'll indulge me a bit:

Final Fantasy IX was the second game in the series that I played. As you might expect, I missed virtually all the allusions and references to earlier titles. Now, I don't think that's a problem; the game clearly has more in mind than just being a series celebration, and the the references were subtle enough that I never felt like I was missing anything, so it never affected my enjoyment of it. But as I played more games in the series, I'd see things and go "hey, I bet IX was referencing this." So I've long thought it'd be interesting to go back to IX with knowledge of the other games under my belt — not to re-assess it, just to see what I could pick out. And since last year (thanks to this thread!) I finally played III, now I've got all the experience I need.

Also it's been nearly a decade since I played it, so that's a reason too. Either way, I'm looking forward to playing this one again, and following along with your reports to see if there were any references I missed. I'll start in the next few days, I think.
Great, I'm looking forward to reading about your experience (well, if/whenever you feel like sharing, don't feel pressured).

What I forgot to mention was, that wanting to replay IX might be one of the main reasons why I even started this project. It's been over ten years, and I feel weird replaying games, when I still have so many unplayed ones that interest me too. But this project gave me an excuse to do so (plus all the others, which should enhance this experience, and it was just so nice to reexperience and reexamine these great games).

But if it didn't come across in my first IX post, this game still means a lot to me, and it's really nice to revisit it, and meet up with its characters again. Looking very much forward to Freya, my very favourite Dragoon in the series.

Anyway, glad to have you along, again. :)
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
See, Daikaiju knows what's up.

I kind of love, that we do the fairy tale trope of the super dangerous woods here. The game always felt somewhat fairy tale-ish to me, so it fits well, to have something like this as a first dungeon.

Also, it's beautiful. This game is beautiful. I won't repeat it all the time, but it's probably what I always think, whenever I'm anywhere.

Alsoalso, in case I forgot to mention it, the game starts similar to how the first one did: By kidnapping a princess.

So, Garnet and Vivi haven't crash-landed with the thiefs, which results in our first FTE (I think? I just don't really have the time to play much, so I already forgot). In any case, I love the concept. It's great, that the game offers the player a choice here - if you want to just keep playing, do so. If you want to get some world building, and see what other characters are up to, watch these scenes. I always loved them, and thought it was a shame, when they started to get fewer and fewer, in the later parts of the game.

Well, this one is pretty short, we just see Vivi and Garnet run away from something.

With Zidane, we move a bit through the woods, and find Vivi and Steiner, in front of a plant-monster that captured Garnet, and holds her prisoner. Vivi is too scared to fight here, so it's up to Steiner and Zidane (I am glad, that Steiner is level-headed enough, to put his distrust against Zidane aside, to fight against a bigger threat).

Zidane gets angry enough to go Super Saiyan, except that it is Trance here. But a similar concept applies, it is induced by a surge of emotions, making you way stronger for the time, these emotions hold on. Zidane has no idea what happened, but Steiner did hear about Trance, and gives us this information.

It's a fine explanation, and makes sense in a magical world like this. And it's more than we got in the last three games, it is at least acknowledged here. While not as useful as the Limit Breaks from VII and VIII, I like that it fits.

Zidane in this form is super powerful, and I scare the thing away with two attacks. So, it takes away Garnet, and flees. When thinking about what to do, the thing comes back, though, and not grabs Vivi.

So, the classical ATB Tutorial Boss from IV up to VII is gone for good, since VIII. But we get a tutorial about having different targets, and that you shouldn't just hit the monster with all you've got. You might have to think about how to approach a fight. I'm not sure how much this is even used here, I vaguely remember the bosses in this game to be quite simple, but we'll see.

It is a nice touch, that Vivi, as a guest and prisoner, who sometimes gets sucked the life out of, fights with Steiner and Zidane. And he is pretty effective, the thing soon dies. But before vanishing, it poisons Vivi and Steiner, who loose consciense.

We skip a bit, and see that Zidane brought both back to the Tantalus. Vivi lies in bed, and Steiner is forced to stay in his room, and drink his antidote. It is nice, that this game treats poison here like a real threat, that someone could actually die from. It is the only time, or at least I don't remember poison being more of a problem than in other JRPGs, but it's something. Still, Steiner never forgets his duty, and wants to save the princess.

Baku forbids Zidane to rescue Garnet, he is supposed to wait for the others to recover. It's too dangerous out there, alone. We learn, that monsters are born out of the Mist that is everywhere.

Did I ever mention, that I appreciate that this series always has a bit more thought behind why there are monsters everywhere? I certainly do.

We can watch two other ATEs - the first of Steiner, who demands to be let out, and then gets angry about the handpuppet of the princess. It's cute. We also see an ATE about Ruby, who was left behind by the thieves, and has no idea what to do now. And then, we have one with Cinna, who is looking for the Garnet handpuppet. He is afraid, that he will not be able to get to sleep without it. I guess you could read that as weird and creepy, if you focus on the fact that this is a puppet of Garnet, but I always assumed he just has this puppet, that he likes to sleep with, which is cute.

Zidane visits Vivi, who feels down for not helping with Garnet. We start his long journey of self-discovery here, by showing him that he is actually really powerful, and just has to step up to a task. Which Zidane will, from now on, help him with.

There is the scene, where Baku fights Zidane. Zidane decides to leave, which is against the rules, so he gets punished. It's a matter of principle, Baku does understand. Correspondingly, the fight is easy.

Like before, Steiner puts his differences with Zidane aside, and comes along to save the princess. Here, Zidane starts to call him Rusty. Hehe, I like it. I always thought it was a nice touch, that Steiner called Vivi Master, from the start. He will develop away from his strict following of the rules, and will understand that there is more to life, than just law. Typing that, I start to think that X does a similar thing with Wakka, just more fleshed out.

One thing that really makes this game feel like an early game (I'm especially reminded of FF III) are all the hidden treasure boxes. So many are nearly or completely out of sight, and it's fun to run around and look for them. I love how they brought back the treasure hunting aspect. Would be nice, if the chests contained something useful, from time to time, though.

Before going into the woods, Blank (who seems to be set up as a bit of a rival for Zidane, except that he soon stops to be relevant, which is probably the reason why I forgot him) gives us some medicine against these poisonous seeds.

In the woods, we soon find another callback: A healing spring. We also find another Moogle, Monty, and I start to make a list of them, so that I remember who is where. I vaguely remember there being some letters, where I have to go back somewhere, so, just in case. Stilzkin seems to be somewhere, where it is cold. Oh, I guess he is already in the Ice Cave.

Soon, we are at the boss, a giant flower monster. And Zidane actually dies. It hit hard. But, just at that moment, Blank appeared, and I thought that was intentional. It wasn't, just a coincidence. Anyway, he helps us. Also, we already have our Mystic Knight, by combining Steiners and Vivis powers, which is pretty great. Magic Sword is super powerful.

After the fight, we flee, and more and more of the plant-insect monsters are following us. We get a nice FMV, where one of them catches Blank. He throws us a map, before being turned to stone, as the sun goes up.

I was always a bit confused by what happened here. Did the boss monster keep the forest from turning into stone? Or was it the sunlight? It always seemed like the latter, but considering that the wood doesn't get to live again, this seems unlikely. So, I guess we killed the whole forest, which doesn't seem like a great thing to do.

Outside, we get a nice, calm camping scene, where Garnet slowly wakes up. She also explains to Steiner, that she walked out of her own, free will. And, unfortunately, he only acts like he understands, from now on planning to force Garnet to go back. He is really the archetypical knight, following his code, without actually considering the people, even his superiors, who might have a good reason not to follow it. In a darker game, he could be a very grim character, maybe an antagonist.

I do like, what we get from Garnet here, and generally the inversion of the kidnapped princess. Who is, here, actually behind the kidnapping. I love how proactive she is, and how assertive. Very good first impression. A shame, that she is just the healer and summoner. In general, the characters and their classes fit so well to what they do in the story, including their strength in battle, it feels a bit like a throwback to IV. Very clear cases of characters, who develop on their own, with nearly no input from you.

I guess the classes show us more of how the characters start out. Like, Steiner is a classical knight, pretty much a funny version of the archetype, and Garnet starts out as a typical princess, who might be trained in healing magic, because royalty doesn't fight, or something. There are paralels to Rinoa, with her probably not really knowing what she is getting into (Zidane has to explain to her, how to hide that she is a princess later on), but then, the plan was to get straight from one kingdom to the next.

My point was, they start out as archetypes, and develop from there.

Speaking of input, maybe it's the right time to talk about the ability system, where you need to learn abilities from your equipment. I honestly had never much trouble with it. I get it, if you are more into systems than me, it is probably really frustrating, not being able to equip your character as well as you can. I feel like, it is a bit of a trade-off system, that just didn't work out too well, where you use lesser equipment, for long-time rewards.

In practice, it never was much of a problem for me. Sometimes, I would equip a piece a bit longer than necessary, but if you just switch it around for bosses, it works fine. It's not like you need to be at maximum efficiency for regular monsters.

Also, the ability system, I think, is pretty great. I love the idea of having all these abilities, that you can switch around at will, depending on your preferences and the situation you are in. That said, I think I mainly used the same few things, most of the time. And with the characters being not really able to deviate from their given path, it is probably not as great as it could be (I just love the idea, that you can respec at will). Still, the idea is great, and I remember it being fun to play around with, from time to time.

Back to the game, a moogle appears (I love how they are everywhere in this world), and offers a tutorial. It's a cute presentation, of Mogster teaching Moggy stuff in a swamp, but also not necessary for me. We do get a Moogle Flute, so we can call one of them on the world map. Who is then rushing to meet is. I think I need a few other words for cute. Let's go with adorable, here.

For another callback, we now have the very same party, that FF I suggests to you - a thief, a knight, a black mage and a white mage. A really nice touch. To follow up on this, to get above the Mist, and away from the monsters, we have to go through the Ice Cavern. Thankfully, it's way less horrible than the dungeon in FF I.

Oh, that the cave leads above the Mist is told by Vivi, who learned it from his grandfather. Right, I forgot that, at this point, the player doesn't know yet that Vivi isn't just a somewhat awkward child, but an artificial creation.

Garnet is immediately drawn to the beauty of the cave, a true scholar. I totally buy, that she is into knowledge.

In yet another callback, I think, Vivi melts a wall of ice, after Zidane motivates him, and tells him that he is a great mage. Feels reminiscent of Rydia, especially considering that they are both kids (well, in Vivis case, he is coded as one), with way more power than they imagine.

At one place, we find a frozen moogle. Always happy to see one.

Continuing onwards, we reach a corridor, with brutally cold wind, and everyone falls asleep. For some reason, Zidane gets woken up by a bell. I mean, I don't get why it is just Zidane. Is it his Saiyan blood? Is it a pavlovian response?

Well, we find our first antagonistic Black Mage (who looks really cool and sinister, and very much like an evil version of adorable Vivi) - the Black Waltz No. 1.

Fun Fact: In the German version, they don't have this name (I just learned this second, that there is a movie that is called "Three Waltzes", I guess it is a refernce?). Instead, it is called "Schwarzer Tenor 1". As in "The Three Tenors" - you know, Pavarotti, Domingo and the other guy.

Anyway, the jerk summons a Sealion, and the only reason why I'm not slaughtered, all alone, is the fact that the Black Waltz isn't that strong, and the Sealion saves his stronger moves for...something. Dunno. I still die, as I try to steal from the Sealion, and just have no luck. Next time, I first analize the Black Waltz, see that he has nothing of interest, and kill him first (easy, as the game seems to be balanced to get Zidane near Trance, if you fight all the fights, and get all the treasures. He is still really strong, in that form. But I still want to get the stuff from the Sealion (he has good equipment), and without the Black Waltz, he starts his actually dangerous stuff. Tidal Wave and Blizzara, it's pretty intense. And I die again.

I know that this is partly my fault, but the bosses here seems to give me the most trouble since the start of FF III, or something.

But the third time works, I get the treasure from the Sealion (a Mythril Dagger), go into Trance, and utterly destroy both enemies at once, with Zidanes AoE attack.

After the fight, Zidane "hears a voice", but because his ears don't work that well, he doesn't realize that it's just Zorn and Thorn, who stand above him. Which seems weird, Zidane is supposed to be smart, isn't he? They tell him, that No 2 and 3 will come to reclaim Garnet.

I know, I'm repeating myself, but I really like that all these forces from Alexandria are like "You are a Princess Object, and therefore have no freedom of movement" and she is like "Yeah, no, I'm a person, and I do as I well please".

I'm not quite sure, why Zidane didn't tell the others about the encounter. I guess he didn't want to scare Garnet, having some creepy weirdos on her toes, and Vivi, having seem his evil twin. I mean, he should at least tell Garnet, but I guess this might be part of his arc? Respecting her more as a person, and not as a woman he has a crush on? But then, he does seem to respect her in general, just giving her tipps on how to act more like a civilian. I mean, he will soon act like a disgusting creep, so there is a clear lack of respect in some ways there, and I don't think he actively develops out of this - it seems, like the game will just forget about this stupid trait.

Out of the cave, we can see a village from afar, where Zidane thinks to have already been to. He also suggests to Garnet to take on another name, and to try talking less official. Garnet does take on the name "Dagger" (I found it funny, that she actively asks what it is called, and then you can still give her a different name). Would have been nice, if she maybe, additionally to her staff, she had adopted the dagger as her weapon, maybe.

On my way to the village, I get into only one encounter. It was a nice surprise, no battle music, instead some pop quiz guy, who asks us one question, and gives us 1000 Gil for answering correctly. Nice, that was fun.

---------------------------------------------

Well, that's all for now. Next time, we will explore the village Dali.
 

Torzelbaum

????? LV 13 HP 292/ 292
(he, him, his)
I love the idea of having all these abilities, that you can switch around at will, depending on your preferences and the situation you are in. That said, I think I mainly used the same few things, most of the time. And with the characters being not really able to deviate from their given path, it is probably not as great as it could be (I just love the idea, that you can respec at will). Still, the idea is great, and I remember it being fun to play around with, from time to time.
The only comment I have about the ability system is that I think Zidane and Freya should have had a Bushy Tail ability (to go along with the Bright Eyes ability).
 
FF IX has a very special place in my heart. It feels like the quintessential Final Fantasy to me, despite lacking the very thing that defined the series from the very start: Trying new things, inventing itself new. This game doesn't do that, or only in small ways. The main focus is a celebration of the series, taking a look back and referencing itself in a multitude of ways.

FFIX has never clicked for me the way some other games in the series have, but reading your posts about it put me in the mood to play it again anyway. I'm at the end of the first disc now, and am enjoying it much more than I did in the past. The issues I've always had with it, mainly that the combat feels weird due to the delay between entering a command and it being performed, and the many missable items, are definitely present, but it also has strengths I didn't give it enough credit for. Part of that was just timing; I never owned a PSX, so I played the PC ports of FFVII and VIII when they came out, not long after their console releases, but had to wait on IX until I had a PS2, and by the time I played it I'd already played FFX and some other PS2 games.

A new Final Fantasy game has always been kind of a big deal post-FFVII, and FFIX, being released on old hardware and full of intentional throwbacks to games on even older hardware, would have a hard time living up to that "big deal" status, even if I'd played it right when it came out. Nowadays, though, PSX RPGs make good comfort food, and FFIX works really well for that. Compared to pretty much anything else on the system, it really is gorgeous. And you're right about the world feeling lived in even more than the previous games. Like, Balamb Garden pulled off that feeling better than other areas in FFVIII, but here every town is on that level. Oh, and Chocobo Hot & Cold is indeed great. It's a fun minigame on its own, but the music really elevates it. In fact, this game has a lot of great music, and I'd forgotten about most of it. In particular, I've got the track that plays when you're in Alexandria with Vivi stuck in my head now.

My playthrough is probably going to be pretty similar to yours, so I may not post a lot of commentary about it. I'm sure I'll get all the chocographs while not doing too much with the other minigames. I already had the same experience of dying to Sealion twice while trying to steal from it.

So yeah. FFIX: it's good!
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
One thing that really makes this game feel like an early game (I'm especially reminded of FF III) are all the hidden treasure boxes. So many are nearly or completely out of sight, and it's fun to run around and look for them. I love how they brought back the treasure hunting aspect. Would be nice, if the chests contained something useful, from time to time, though.
Yeah, this also reminded me of FF3, and it was a fun connection to make now, because I certainly didn't when I played it last time. I've always really liked this aspect of FF9, but with that context it's even better.

The other thing I like: it's not always hidden items, there's also environmental details for Zidane to observe. Mostly just signs and notes, but every now and then Zidane will make a comment about what he can see out of a window, or what he thinks of an object, and so on. A nice touch, I think.

(I just learned this second, that there is a movie that is called "Three Waltzes", I guess it is a refernce?).
It is a musical reference but it's actually simpler than that. Waltzes are performed in triple time (three beats per bar), so there's three Black Waltzes because a waltz has three components. Zidane actually alludes to this a bit later, but still doesn't really explain it, so it's pretty inscrutable to anyone who isn't already familiar with a waltz.

Garnet does take on the name "Dagger" (I found it funny, that she actively asks what it is called, and then you can still give her a different name).
On my first playthrough, I took the opportunity to just keep her as Garnet, because I thought "Dagger" was a bit silly. This makes for a very odd scene, yes. (I named her Dagger this time around.)

I think the funniest part of this scene, though, is that when Garnet asks what the dagger is called, Zidane immediately launches into explaining what every kind of blade is. And is mildly dejected when she has no interest.

On my way to the village, I get into only one encounter. It was a nice surprise, no battle music, instead some pop quiz guy, who asks us one question, and gives us 1000 Gil for answering correctly. Nice, that was fun.
Damn, I didn't know the Ragtime Mouse could be encountered so early… I'll have to track it down.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
I finished the first disc last night, and I'm having a great time. Final Fantasy IX is, indeed, good. Some assorted thoughts and observations, so far:
  • IX is obviously very indebted to the "classic" (pre-PS1) titles, but I think it does a pretty good job at being more than that. The biggest thing IX does is add several non-human races, which really give it a distinct character (and, in light of XI, XII and XIV, seems ahead of its time); but smaller things, like the ATE system, really shows that it's not just resting on its laurels. Maybe I'm just splitting hairs here, but I wouldn't call it a simple "throwback" — it's more like a game that takes the ethos of the older games and runs with it, using it as a baseline but not the blueprint. A bit like like retro RPGs we get today.

  • The aesthetic sense of this game is interesting. After two games of properly-proportioned humans (VII only in battles, but nevertheless), IX opts for rather stubby characters that must be a nod to the first six games. But it also keeps the pre-rendered backgrounds (with the detail and dramatic framing it allows) that defined the PS1 titles. I'm sure this was done as a meeting of the old and the new, but I think seeubg big-headed characters on these intricate dioramas makes the thing feel staged — like a doll's house, or a puppet theatre. Given the game is bookended by theatre productions, I can't imagine this escaped the developer's notice, but I wonder if it was intentional or just a happy accident.

  • There's a really strong comedic bent to this game. Which is not to say that other Final Fantasy games aren't funny, but IX is funny in a different way. There's a lot more physical humour, for one, but IX also stages entire scenes just for their humour. Like, I'd say that Final Fantasy games generally find their humour in how characters bounce off each other, and use it mostly to relieve tension (this is a particular favourite of VIII, where a lot of the humour is based in how awkward Squall is); IX will include a scene entirely for the laugh factor, or find ways to mine an existing scene for laughs (an early example: how silly it is when Steiner chases Zidane through Alexandria). I'd put IX alongside V and X-2 in this regard.

  • The strongest aspect of the game is definitely its worldbuilding. Between casual references to historical events, how NPCs have names and talk about their own lives, how characters have histories and pre-existing relationships beyond what is plot-relevant, and how ATEs show that other characters are up to, there is a sense that this is a living world that exists outside of the player's perspective. And I think it's especially impressive because, as much as I like the settings in Final Fantasy, I don't feel like they really capture that sense very often; IX is a rare exception.

  • I have a real hard time with Zidane. On one hand, it's nice to have a protagonist who has some life experience and plays a somewhat mentorly role in the party (encouraging Vivi to stand up for himself and be more outgoing, and coaching Garnet on how to change her speech and mannerisms to better blend in). It both makes him seem like a richer character, and sets him apart from other RPG heroes, who tend to have a more passive role. But on the other hand, so much of his carefree attitude and roguish charm amounts to "this guy definitely fucks". Which is dumb to begin with and only gets more tiresome, but becomes a real mark against him after he gropes Garnet (and quips about it!). Rather a frustrating character, really… mature in some ways but disappointingly adolescent in others.

  • I'm making an active effort to use Quina this time. First time I played, I ignored Quina almost entirely, because I found blue magic to be too annoying to learn. But playing VII showed me just how powerful blue magic could be, and replaying V confirmed it; so, I'm willing to give it a go here. It helps that Quina is otherwise one of my favourite characters in the series, and that I'm happy to keep them in my party. So far I haven't had much opportunity to really deploy any blue spells, so it's just been busywork … but with Quina already having both Mighty Guard and Magic Hammer, well, it feels like only a matter of time before they really demonstrate their power.

  • Here's a nice touch: the title cards that introduces a new area often have different fonts. Ice Cavern is done in italic; Lindblum has bold, gothic lettering; Burmecia has a celtic tinge; Chocobo Forest has a clunky and playful font. It's small, but it goes a long way at establishing the different character and mood of these areas, as well as just making these cards memorable in and of themselves.
That went longer than I expected! I'm going to leave my own wrap-ups for end-of-disc breaks, I think, but I'm looking forward to your reports as well, Felix.
 
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FelixSH

(He/Him)
Thanks for the write-ups, guys. I'm happy to have you along, it feels a bit like I'm playing FF III again (I mean, I generally get III vibes from this game, but having you two play along is pretty neat).
FFIX has never clicked for me the way some other games in the series have, but reading your posts about it put me in the mood to play it again anyway. I'm at the end of the first disc now, and am enjoying it much more than I did in the past. The issues I've always had with it, mainly that the combat feels weird due to the delay between entering a command and it being performed, and the many missable items, are definitely present, but it also has strengths I didn't give it enough credit for. Part of that was just timing; I never owned a PSX, so I played the PC ports of FFVII and VIII when they came out, not long after their console releases, but had to wait on IX until I had a PS2, and by the time I played it I'd already played FFX and some other PS2 games.

A new Final Fantasy game has always been kind of a big deal post-FFVII, and FFIX, being released on old hardware and full of intentional throwbacks to games on even older hardware, would have a hard time living up to that "big deal" status, even if I'd played it right when it came out. Nowadays, though, PSX RPGs make good comfort food, and FFIX works really well for that. Compared to pretty much anything else on the system, it really is gorgeous. And you're right about the world feeling lived in even more than the previous games. Like, Balamb Garden pulled off that feeling better than other areas in FFVIII, but here every town is on that level. Oh, and Chocobo Hot & Cold is indeed great. It's a fun minigame on its own, but the music really elevates it. In fact, this game has a lot of great music, and I'd forgotten about most of it. In particular, I've got the track that plays when you're in Alexandria with Vivi stuck in my head now.

My playthrough is probably going to be pretty similar to yours, so I may not post a lot of commentary about it. I'm sure I'll get all the chocographs while not doing too much with the other minigames. I already had the same experience of dying to Sealion twice while trying to steal from it.

So yeah. FFIX: it's good!
Great! I'm very happy to hear, that you gave the game a second chance, and that you are now enjoying it. Also nice to know, that I'm not the only one tormenting themselves, by stealing from bosses.

The other thing I like: it's not always hidden items, there's also environmental details for Zidane to observe. Mostly just signs and notes, but every now and then Zidane will make a comment about what he can see out of a window, or what he thinks of an object, and so on. A nice touch, I think.
Totally, it just gives the world so much more flavour, finding these little details. If you didn't yet, check out the key items, and click on them. They all have a bit of flavour text added, which ist really cool. It's all part, of why this world feels so well done and true.

In general, I think the world building got better and better with each game, something I never realized (and I don't thinkt that will stop, Spira is, if memory serves, a great place, and Rabanastre oozes History).

It is a musical reference but it's actually simpler than that. Waltzes are performed in triple time (three beats per bar), so there's three Black Waltzes because a waltz has three components. Zidane actually alludes to this a bit later, but still doesn't really explain it, so it's pretty inscrutable to anyone who isn't already familiar with a waltz.
Ah, thanks for the explanation. I always thought it was a weird fourth-wall break, but I can totally see this world having developed a Waltz. I'm more surprised to learn, that Zidane knows how to dance one.

I think the funniest part of this scene, though, is that when Garnet asks what the dagger is called, Zidane immediately launches into explaining what every kind of blade is. And is mildly dejected when she has no interest.
Yeah, that was really funny. It felt very real, in how these two reacted to each other in the scene - but character interactions are a strength of this game anyway, so not too much of a surprise.

  • IX is obviously very indebted to the "classic" (pre-PS1) titles, but I think it does a pretty good job at being more than that. The biggest thing IX does is add several non-human races, which really give it a distinct character (and, in light of XI, XII and XIV, seems ahead of its time); but smaller things, like the ATE system, really shows that it's not just resting on its laurels. Maybe I'm just splitting hairs here, but I wouldn't call it a simple "throwback" — it's more like a game that takes the ethos of the older games and runs with it, using it as a baseline but not the blueprint. A bit like like retro RPGs we get today.
You are right. Aside from the dwarves from the earlier games, and Moogles in the case of V, it was always humans, populating these worlds (and Espers, right). Didn't even catch that.
I think your interpretation here is pretty spot-on. I always considered IX to be the game that basically perfected the standard JRPG formula. Which isn't quite on point, as it still does things that are very much in the FF mold, but that just fits your point better - it uses what came before, and perfects it, in some way. Well, that's my interpretation.

  • The aesthetic sense of this game is interesting. After two games of properly-proportioned humans (VII only in battles, but nevertheless), IX opts for rather stubby characters that must be a nod to the first six games. But it also keeps the pre-rendered backgrounds (with the detail and dramatic framing it allows) that defined the PS1 titles. I'm sure this was done as a meeting of the old and the new, but I think seeubg big-headed characters on these intricate dioramas makes the thing feel staged — like a doll's house, or a puppet theatre. Given the game is bookended by theatre productions, I can't imagine this escaped the developer's notice, but I wonder if it was intentional or just a happy accident.
Nice catch, too. Considering how VI is basically an opera, it is very possible that you are right, and that this game is basically a stage play, just with puppets. Sounds like something very intentional to me, especially considering how much care went into the creation of this world.

  • I have a real hard time with Zidane. On one hand, it's nice to have a protagonist who has some life experience and plays a somewhat mentorly role in the party (encouraging Vivi to stand up for himself and be more outgoing, and coaching Garnet on how to change her speech and mannerisms to better blend in). It both makes him seem like a richer character, and sets him apart from other RPG heroes, who tend to have a more passive role. But on the other hand, so much of his carefree attitude and roguish charm amounts to "this guy definitely fucks". Which is dumb to begin with and only gets more tiresome, but becomes a real mark against him after he gropes Garnet (and quips about it!). Rather a frustrating character, really… mature in some ways but disappointingly adolescent in others.
Yeah, and I find that really shameful. Like, Zidane seems to be the main focus of the team here, and we see a different side of him, depending on who he interacts with. For Vivi, he is the big brother (like with everything, Vivi makes it better), with Freya (and Amaranth, I guess?), he is the rival, with Steiner, he is part of an Odd Couple. These are all great. And then, he is the gross guy who touches Garnet without her consent, makes a gross remark about how she should sleep with him, if she has trouble, and so on. He very much reminds me of Locke, or, more specifically, a Locke in a less depressing world than what VI had to offer. I really, really wished they hadn't given him the horniness of a gross teenager, because it kind of sours me on a character who I also really, really like.

  • I'm making an active effort to use Quina this time. First time I played, I ignored Quina almost entirely, because I found blue magic to be too annoying to learn. But playing VII showed me just how powerful blue magic could be, and replaying V confirmed it; so, I'm willing to give it a go here. It helps that Quina is otherwise one of my favourite characters in the series, and that I'm happy to keep them in my party. So far I haven't had much opportunity to really deploy any blue spells, so it's just been busywork … but with Quina already having both Mighty Guard and Magic Hammer, well, it feels like only a matter of time before they really demonstrate their power.
Same. I mean, I just want to use Quina, because they are just such a weird design, and their personality is delightful. "I don't care, just let me eat." Dunno, feels fitting into this world, and makes me want to use them. And yeah, it's the first time that I give Blue Mages a try, and they are just so much fun to use, that I don't want to miss out on that here.

It helps, that there are a lot of monsters right outside the swamp, that teach Blue Magic. I think I got already six spells, some from before Gizamalukes Grotto, and some directly afterwards. That seems pretty intentional, and I like it. Night, for example, seems like it is very abusable.

The rest are good points too, I just hadn't anything to add there. But I pretty much agree on your take. Glad you still have fun!

------------------------------------------------------------

Dali is a fun little village to explore, and it reminded me a lot of the small villages my DM made up, when I played D&D. It seems totally nice and normal at first, but has a dark secret, and you have characters spread out and explore on their own. Especially Garnets interactions with the pumpkin lady and the shopkeeper feel like something a D&D player would act out, when playing a princess, trying act like a regular person. Together with these pretty basic classes, this makes me think a lot of D&D in general, and also, like always, FF III.

I thought a bit about calling Garnet by her real name, or by Dagger. If, maybe, Dagger should be the one to use, as it was the one chosen by her. But then, it is not like she wanted to adopt this name, even if she chose it. If not by necessity, she would likely continued using Garnet. Maybe I am wrong, and we will see at the end, if she sticks to Dagger (I don't think she does, though), but with that reasoning, I'll stick to Garnet. Also, with Dagger, I would constantly forget to use that name.

We soon get a sense of something wrong here. Two little kids make a strange remark, and the innkeeper stares - not at Garnet, though, but Vivi. Inside the inn room (which is free, maybe because the innkeeper was so surprised to see a Black Mage running around), we learn that Garnet planned to get out of the castle, anyway - or maybe it was just Steiner who learns it here, I already forgot. She wants to reach Lindblum.

I loved the little details in the inn, like the machine where you can buy your Color Fortune for 10 Gil, or the bookcase with really bad-sounding get-rich-quick books.

One little detail in the ATE, where Garnet is at the pumpkin farm, is that she doesn't want to accept, that her mother wouldn't have had a problem with her exploding along with the others. It is really obvious, that Brane didn't care - she knew, that her daughter was on that thing, and still sent the Bomb. But it's also very understandable, that Garnet doesn't want to believe it to be true.

I played a bit of Tetra Master with the shopkeeper, and lose. Still, I like it, and read about the rules afterwards. And while I wished, that there were a few sidequests associated with it, and that you would have more than just that one tournament, I can see myself playing it from time to time, just because I have fun with it. Honestly, more than with Triple Triad, I think. I actually kind of appreciate, that these cards don't give any other reward, and that it is its very own thing. Someone argued, that it was a condensed version of a JRPG, in card form, which explains the luck factor (which, granted, might be too big). Nice interpretation.

I find Aries, the first Zodiac, and two treasure chests that were unreachable. Huh.

When meeting up with Garnet at the inn (and Vivi weirdly missing), she mentions the lack of adults around here. Fittingly, we switch to Steiner for an ATE, who also wonders about that - except, he only wants to find out how to get back to Alexandria, and needs an adult for that. I do like, that he is always trying to help out. There are some really good qualities to this guy.

After Vivi doesn't appear for some more time, we soon find out that he was kidnapped, and we get below the windmill. I was actually a bit surprised, that this wasn't spelled out, and you had to look around for the entrance - not critizising, I just assumed the game would guide you all the way. It's not like it is hard to find.

Down, we soon find Vivi, and some guys who talk about the innkeeper and his brother having reconciled. I really love, how there is the hint to quite some backstory with the characters in this village. Maybe it's not much, but the bits we get makes me think, that there are a few personalities here.

We get some more interaction between Zidane and Garnet, where Zidane only wants to save Vivi, and Garnet being more careful, as she wants to find out what is happening down here, as she already suspects, that there is a connection to Alexandria.

I play faster than I write here, so I'm actually quite a bit ahead. And I must say, that, while Zidane is a bit of a disappointment in a specific way, Garnet is a very positive surprise. She is very pro-active, and doesn't let herself get stopped by others, telling her that she can't do something, or should let others do the work she feels responsible for. I really enjoy spending time with her.

Next, Vivi gets freed, and we get a bit more about him - how he listens to anyone, telling him what to do, and that he simply lacks selfesteem. It's a very nice moment, where Zidane plays the big brother, and explains to Vivi that he shouldn't let others treat him like that. That's the Zidane I really like. Even if, shortly before, he was way too dense, in understanding that people might like to just think about stuff, and how everything he doesn't understand has to be about girls. Oh, well.

The door with the Mist didn't offer much, except for a nice background, and some more talk about these weird machines. Well, we actually see the machine sucking in Mist. Which also makes it possible for monsters to appear. I don't know it this was intentional, but these jerks only seemed to attack Vivi.

This, while not necessarily a throwback, is clearly something in the same vein as what we saw in many other FFs - the use of a powerful source for creating machines. Something about this here seems a bit more interesting, as the Mist is basically evil, and creates monsters, but is used for the Good. At least it has been, or is implied to be that way, up to now, with the main user seeming to be Cid.

I had to love about the goofy picture of a Chocobo, powering the treatmill and with that the machine, because someone hung a Gysahl Green in front of him. I have no idea if something like this works, it just seems like a cartoony idea to me.

And then, we get the first twist - eggs are created, and get transformed into bigger versions of Vivi, Black Mages. Due to the Black Waltz, it isn't the first grown one we have seen, but here it gets clear. And Vivi sees them for the first time (as does Garnet). It is nice, how this creates two separate, negative reactions - Vivi, because he simply can't comprehend this, and Garnet, because she realizes that her mother might do something horrible here.

At least, the secret of the missing adults is solved.

You know, Vivi isn't the only one irritated by this. The grown Black Mages look creepy, with their hidden faces. Especially in a few moments, on the airship, when they move around without talking, it creeped me out.

The bit with Steiner, asking the old guy about the airship, was pretty funny. Just great, how Steiner switches from respectful to angrily jumping up and down. He is a delight.

I do like, how Steiner tries to trick everyone into thinking that the airship will go to Lindblum, while it is going to Alexandria, and both Garnet and Zidane see through it. It's nice to have clever characters. At this moment, Black Waltz No 2 appears, and is a good deal stronger than the weak first one. But Steiner hits like a truck, especially in Trance. Vivi, unfortunately, gets countered every time he casts a spell. And, of course, it doesn't attack Garnet.

Here is the gross moment, where Zidane touches Garnet. At least he gets slapped for it.

On the airship, after Steiner has a mental breakdown and thinks he left Garnet behind, he does show first signs of sympathy for Zidane. Whose plan doesn't quite work out, as he can't talk to the captain - it's just another Black Mage, not talking or really reacting.

With the whole ship run by the Black Mages, I felt a bit reminded of FF II. Where the regular citizens seem to have been replaced by creatures of Hell. This is clearly a coincidence, as there is never a sign of Brane wanting to turn her whole kingdom into a cycle of Hell, still, it creeped me out a bit.

Soon, the third Black Waltz appears. And, while I first thought the Black Mages seemed to be angry, because Zidane had started to control the ship, they just seem to be drawn to Vivi, protecting him. And the Black Waltz, slighty crazy jerk that he is, thinks to be something better, and just kills them.

I'm sure I will get back to the theme of the Black Mages, and them being more than just puppets, so lets just say for now, that it is a very sad scene, and that the Black Waltz is a cruel monster. It does draw out Vivis inner strength, though.

In a nice surprise, Zidane tells Garnet to control the ship. NOT because he wants to keep her away from harm (at least I don't think so), but to give her the chance to choose if she wants to go to Lindblum, or to Alexandria. I might be too generous here, but up to now, he never had a problem with her fighting at his side.

With Vivi angry, he starts the fight in Trance. Steiner also does, and I was really surprised how easy the battle was. But then, Trance Steiner is a monster. But the Black Waltz flees, which didn't help - he is clearly broken. Maybe that's why Zorn and Thorn didn't create more like them, they had to flee from him. Keeping them dumb makes them easy to control, I guess.

With that, we get a pretty cool FMV, of our airship being chased by the BW. Until we reach Lindblum, which the BW doesn't do, and he explodes with his small aircraft. But it did damage our airship, and the Gate. We do reach Lindblum, though.

Which is were i will take a break. Next time: My favourite Dragoon. And Lindblum, I guess.
 

Lokii

Administrator
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
I'm up to the Outer Continent in my playthrough. Tons and tons of thoughts and reactions but I'm having trouble getting them down into a coherent form.

YnnUZrC.png


For now though I wanted to discuss Zidane's characterization. The boarding the airship scene is def eyebrow raising, mostly because it's the one instance of outright adolescent fanservice in a game that is normally a bit more classy. I think the moment rings so loud because it's such an extreme expression of his character. It's loses a lot of the nuance in how he's otherwise normally portrayed.

IX is an odd game because it simultaneously trades both in archetypes and in distinct characterization. That is to say, it draws its characters in broad outlines then uses its long runtime and intimate nature to fill them in with shades of specificity. For example, Steiner starts as pure Zenigata, right down to the eyeliner. But then he grows over the course of the game, losing his clownish blind loyalty and in the process gaining a dignity that coheres with his Knight job class.

So what's going on with Zidane? It's easy enough to define his archetype as the rogue with a heart of gold, but why is he characterized with this lecherous aspect? Is it only to appeal to the randy boys in the audience?

I think we can see a close analog in the classic French film Fanfan la Tulipe. I can't find any collaborating evidence that the movie was a direct inspiration for Zidane, and it might be pure coincidence, but there's a lot of similarities.

kjCTTld.png

That's Fanfan on the left and ain't he the spitting image.

Fanfan is a roguish character that inhabits the same archetypical space as Zidane, right down to his lecherous nature, but much more extreme. Fanfan disregards all authority, is an overboiling pot of spontaneity, and its his sleeping around that propels the action of the story. Zidane is tame in comparison, but they share a lust for life that is metaphorically represented by their libertine natures. But where with Fanfan it's just that—a symbol for a type of romantic energy—Zidane's characterization is derived from psychological concerns.

A trait that most of the characters in IX share is a loneliness and need for connection which manifests differently in each of them. Zidane masks and hides from his loneliness by presenting a cheerful attitude and a playful approach to serious situations. Part of that manifests in his tendency to chase skirts and avoid real romantic connection. It is through the course of the game that Zidane is able to grow out of this attitude and develop relationships of substance.

There's a nice moment in Madain Sari where Eiko asks Zidane and Garnet if they're more than friends. This is right after the marriage scene, where Zidane first feels trepidation at being tied down, then he casual embraces of the situation as it presents an opportunity for a physical relationship with Garnet (which she quickly and concretely rejects), then he adapts a kind of sarcastic playfulness in order to protect is feelings. Eiko puts him on the spot and demands an forthright statement about the nature of their relationship. And Zidane rises to the moment with a honest and elegant answer.

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Zidane recognizes there's something between him and Garnet that goes beyond mere friendship, but isn't the kind of romantic relationship he understands (physical and fleeting). He could have said that they were married, but he understands that was only a technicality and caries no weight. He could have said was her guardian or escort or savior, which would all have been technically correct but would have been insulting to Garnet and not speak to the depth of their connection. Instead he uses the word "team" which implies an equality, a partnership of equal contribution (which is true in game mechanics as well as in story concerns). Not only is it respectful to Garnet as a person, but it tells her that he values her more than as an object of desire. Through his answer he shows that he's maturing and abandoning some his old flirty-to-a-fault nature.

"The true adventure was the friends we made along the way" is a criticism often lobbied at JRPGs. I think it's an almost unavoidable consequence of the format. When you have a party based structure in a story game you're going to have to go out of your way if you want to avoid the party becoming a stand-in for a surrogate family. The metaphor is baked in. IX recognizes this and in its character-focused approach uses the metaphor to develop its narrative. Every character is healed through their membership in the party. It is their acceptance in this rag-tag group of dolls and monkeys and frogs that they're able to abandon their loneliness and grow as people; and, of course, it is these connections that allows them to triumph over the bad guys and win the game.

IX's a sophisticated game, almost deceivingly so. Zidane's lustiness is another aspect of that. I think it's an appropriate characterization in terms of his archetype and his development. He's not (or not just) this game's Ringabel. There's almost certainly a fanservicey aspect to it, this is a JRPG after all, but IX uses the trait to complicate Zidane and give us insight into his psychology. It is a little dated for sure, and doesn't quite align with current values, but I feel it is to a purpose and that a lot is gained by it.
 

4-So

Spicy
FF9 is the one game in the series that I really dislike, so I have nothing to offer there but I just want to mention re: Zidane's lustiness: if my admittedly light Internet sleuthing is correct, Zidane is only 16 years old and his clumsy mind-in-the-gutter characterization is believable and "appropriate". [Which is to say it should feel relatable and accurate to anyone who has known (or has been) a 16-yo boy, moral judgements on the behavior notwithstanding.]
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
You could rewrite the womanizing and casually sexist traits of any example of this kind of stock writing out of the series, whether it be embodied by an Edge, Edgar, Irvine, Zidane, Balthier or other less focal characters and nothing would be lost and much would be automatically gained through its simple absence, to speak nothing of what possibilities there would be in substituting these traits with literally anything else to support what the character is supposed to be about. If a character's narrative angle and merit still somehow relies on a consistently projected sexism, it's probably time to rethink the character's portrayal on a deeper level, especially as none of these games engage in criticism of the behaviour: the practicioners eventually wear down whoever they're paired with and are accepted for these "quirks" of theirs, or the writing around them de-emphasizes it the further along the narrative gets, with re-evaluation or self-reflection rarely if ever being part of the process. It's simply brushed aside as the initial hook for these figures because it elicits a strong reaction in whatever direction, and now you're invested in following whatever they go on to do next, whether it's tinged with amusement or trepidation.

The characterization evolves to the extent that there will be less literal molestation and other offenses the more screentime the subjects have, as familiarity begets affinity and so the portrayals commonly turn toward less contentious means over time, but it's never treated as anything more than a that's-how-he-is light admonishment, usually by the sufferers themselves, done entirely as a momentary gag. There is no psychological depth in any of these interactions that I've seen across the entirety of the series because they're not fitted to the characters as individuals, as is plain to see from their eternally recurring stock nature. They exist to fulfill expectations of genre and propagate its uncritical traditions, usually by being directly influenced by prior trendsetters within the same field.

Zidane is one of the worst because like Cecil before him, he occupies the protagonist role in his story, and that framing as heroic matters in how his actions are positioned within the narrative and what it's actually equipped to discuss. Sexism is one thing if it's the beginning point in an arc where its intentions are to portray a character's growth out of it (or if it's specifically about someone's inability to overcome it), as Zidane is meant to be heavily themed around a general maturation of his values and sense of belonging, but none of his behaviour toward women ever goes addressed, with all his other qualities defined and buoyed by his interactions with the cast helping him toward likeability in the aggregate instead. It's not impossible to be fond of him, but he is also defined by his narrative role in being a sex pest in a story where that facet of him is treated as a lovable quirk rather than a character flaw, unattached to any larger arc that he undergoes. He is singularly frustrating as a lead perspective because he echoes countless other fictional peers like him within a game that's about reflecting on the past in the grand scheme, and celebrating one's history should ideally always walk hand in hand with the ability to recognize and excise the parts that are not worth retaining.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
FF9 is the one game in the series that I really dislike, so I have nothing to offer there but I just want to mention re: Zidane's lustiness: if my admittedly light Internet sleuthing is correct, Zidane is only 16 years old and his clumsy mind-in-the-gutter characterization is believable and "appropriate". [Which is to say it should feel relatable and accurate to anyone who has known (or has been) a 16-yo boy, moral judgements on the behavior notwithstanding.]
Perfectly honest, it isn't relatable for me. I never had this lustious phase in my teens, but I guess that might come with asexuality, maybe? I always strongly disliked this character trope, and I don't get it, when people want a show to be sexier, or to have sex in it, because it's a part of life and should be portrayed in media.

I mean, I get the idea. But also, it's a world where we use magic and monsters get created by mist, so we can skip some things that are part of real life. And there are other ways to make a character relatable. Like, Zidane is, with all his other character traits, someone that feels enjoyable and fun to be around, or straight-up inspirational (when he tries to teach Garnet to be less royal, or when he teaches Vivi to stand up for himself).

Vivi, though? That's someone I could relate to. Socially awkward, scared, into knowledge and existential questions? Yep, perfectly relatable for someone like me.

I'm up to the Outer Continent in my playthrough. Tons and tons of thoughts and reactions but I'm having trouble getting them down into a coherent form.

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For now though I wanted to discuss Zidane's characterization. The boarding the airship scene is def eyebrow raising, mostly because it's the one instance of outright adolescent fanservice in a game that is normally a bit more classy. I think the moment rings so loud because it's such an extreme expression of his character. It's loses a lot of the nuance in how he's otherwise normally portrayed.

IX is an odd game because it simultaneously trades both in archetypes and in distinct characterization. That is to say, it draws its characters in broad outlines then uses its long runtime and intimate nature to fill them in with shades of specificity. For example, Steiner starts as pure Zenigata, right down to the eyeliner. But then he grows over the course of the game, losing his clownish blind loyalty and in the process gaining a dignity that coheres with his Knight job class.

So what's going on with Zidane? It's easy enough to define his archetype as the rogue with a heart of gold, but why is he characterized with this lecherous aspect? Is it only to appeal to the randy boys in the audience?

I think we can see a close analog in the classic French film Fanfan la Tulipe. I can't find any collaborating evidence that the movie was a direct inspiration for Zidane, and it might be pure coincidence, but there's a lot of similarities.

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That's Fanfan on the left and ain't he the spitting image.

Fanfan is a roguish character that inhabits the same archetypical space as Zidane, right down to his lecherous nature, but much more extreme. Fanfan disregards all authority, is an overboiling pot of spontaneity, and its his sleeping around that propels the action of the story. Zidane is tame in comparison, but they share a lust for life that is metaphorically represented by their libertine natures. But where with Fanfan it's just that—a symbol for a type of romantic energy—Zidane's characterization is derived from psychological concerns.

A trait that most of the characters in IX share is a loneliness and need for connection which manifests differently in each of them. Zidane masks and hides from his loneliness by presenting a cheerful attitude and a playful approach to serious situations. Part of that manifests in his tendency to chase skirts and avoid real romantic connection. It is through the course of the game that Zidane is able to grow out of this attitude and develop relationships of substance.

There's a nice moment in Madain Sari where Eiko asks Zidane and Garnet if they're more than friends. This is right after the marriage scene, where Zidane first feels trepidation at being tied down, then he casual embraces of the situation as it presents an opportunity for a physical relationship with Garnet (which she quickly and concretely rejects), then he adapts a kind of sarcastic playfulness in order to protect is feelings. Eiko puts him on the spot and demands an forthright statement about the nature of their relationship. And Zidane rises to the moment with a honest and elegant answer.

Wr1sARe.png


l9vhl68.png


mINktrN.png


OwlP1OJ.png


Zidane recognizes there's something between him and Garnet that goes beyond mere friendship, but isn't the kind of romantic relationship he understands (physical and fleeting). He could have said that they were married, but he understands that was only a technicality and caries no weight. He could have said was her guardian or escort or savior, which would all have been technically correct but would have been insulting to Garnet and not speak to the depth of their connection. Instead he uses the word "team" which implies an equality, a partnership of equal contribution (which is true in game mechanics as well as in story concerns). Not only is it respectful to Garnet as a person, but it tells her that he values her more than as an object of desire. Through his answer he shows that he's maturing and abandoning some his old flirty-to-a-fault nature.

"The true adventure was the friends we made along the way" is a criticism often lobbied at JRPGs. I think it's an almost unavoidable consequence of the format. When you have a party based structure in a story game you're going to have to go out of your way if you want to avoid the party becoming a stand-in for a surrogate family. The metaphor is baked in. IX recognizes this and in its character-focused approach uses the metaphor to develop its narrative. Every character is healed through their membership in the party. It is their acceptance in this rag-tag group of dolls and monkeys and frogs that they're able to abandon their loneliness and grow as people; and, of course, it is these connections that allows them to triumph over the bad guys and win the game.

IX's a sophisticated game, almost deceivingly so. Zidane's lustiness is another aspect of that. I think it's an appropriate characterization in terms of his archetype and his development. He's not (or not just) this game's Ringabel. There's almost certainly a fanservicey aspect to it, this is a JRPG after all, but IX uses the trait to complicate Zidane and give us insight into his psychology. It is a little dated for sure, and doesn't quite align with current values, but I feel it is to a purpose and that a lot is gained by it.
Thanks for the interesting post. I tried for half an hour to write some sort of answer. But I simply need to keep playing, and looking how this develops. I can only make guesses here, for now, which is pointless. I mean, this side of Zidane hasn't come out since Lindblum, but that is mainly due to the fact that a) there is more important stuff happening and b) he and Garnet are away from each other. So, I'll come back to Zidane later, maybe just at the end of the game.

Thanks for the perspective, Peklo. In general, I pretty much agree, you could easily have someone like Edgar not be gross. In my experience, this stuff is mainly done for jokes, which not only aren't funny (and yes, way more people did find this funny, when the game came out). But it also is problematic, because using problematic stuff like this for jokes, makes them less harmful in our minds. Instead of seeing a problem for how it is, we act like there is humor to be found, and ignore the potential trauma it can result in.

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While still on the airship, we get our first glimpse into Vivis existential crisis. Is he a Black Mage? Is he a puppet? Steiner and Zidane agree, he is first and foremost an individual. And while this is a nice sentiment, it avoids the essential question: What is Vivi?

I immediately get reminded of people, who wonder if they are gay, ace, or queer in any other sort of way, and people telling them that it doesn't matter, they are an individual. Sure, you are a person. But you might also be x. And being x brings a bunch of stuff with it. And it lets you be part of a group, you have other people, who are more specifically like you. People, who might understand trouble you went through, that most people don't get. In Vivis case, is he really alive? In a more modern setting, the question of civil rights might come up - does a puppet, something aritficially created, have them?

The way Steiner and Zidane argue that Vivi is mainly an individual reads a bit to me, like they are actually implying, that he isn't like THESE Black Mages. Later on, Garnet will describe the Black Mages to Cid as golems, but she certainly doesn't see Vivi that way. So, telling Vivi that he is an individual kind-of says, that he is not a Black Mage. Or, more cynically, that he is one of the GOOD BMs, not like these bad, other ones.

The game will come back to this, and so will I. But for now, we already got a bunch of questions out of this little guy, that can be very hard to answer.

Inside, we get a glimpse of Garnet as a person of loyalty. She takes over, and asks to be brought to Cid, similar to how Lenna acted, whenever we reached a new kingdom in V. This is probably less of a callback, and more a way of the series showing royalty to act, a part of its very fabric. When playing the series from the start, you recognize how certain things, ways of storytelling, are repeating themself. This is probably one of them.

It is also another sign of Garnet being a person with some strength, and awareness of them. There is way more to her than just the damsel, that has to be protected, certainly more than Rinoa showed at the beginning of VIII.

For the record, I'm not trying to be mean to Rinoa, but the parallels are pretty clear, with a person who was always protected, getting themself into dangerous situations. Garnet simply has a few more skills, at least in some regards, and she is less blockheaded about the problems she will face.

The guard doesn't believe her, but thankfully, Garnets uncle Artania is working here as the guards supervisor. I guess he is her fathers brother, not Branes, right? They don't seem to be quite the same race.

Instead of immediately leading to Cid, we get the chance to explore the castle. There isn't too much to see, but the bedroom contains a few chests, and a moogle. Zidane also tries to flirt with a pilot(?), a new recruit, who doesn't at all realize it, and is just cheered up by him. Granted, I do have fun, when the game shows us again and again, how he fails as a womanizer.

We learn about an old harbor, that isn't in use anymore. It is implied, that this is mainly due to the Mist, that creates monsters, and makes travel down there, therefore, to dangerous.

I know that we will find out about the source of the Mist. But I wonder, how long has it made life difficult for the people on this continent? Considering it is called "Continent of Mist", probably for a very long time. Travel must have been a huge ordeal, for most of the time, and basically impossible for regular people, if they don't have airships. Makes me wonder, how a village like Dali even survives.

We meet Regent Cid (so, Hilda is the actual queen, I guess?), who has been turned into an Oglop. For good reasons. Also, if you are in such a high position of power, maybe don't flirt with a barmaid. Even aside from being a shitty husband, the barmaid is then in a very uncomfortable position.

Cid wants to talk about the important stuff tomorrow, and eat first. Zidane, not liking fancy food, goes into town, to his favourite pub. And inside, he meets Freya. As mentioned, my favourite Dragoon. And, fittingly for a game where people start out as archetypes, she is a loner and strong fighter, able to dish it out and do some shit-talking.

When I first played this game, I always loved her design, which was the main reason why I had her always in my party. The other was due to her backstory, which I will expand upon later on. I mean, we get the main info here, about her looking for her boyfriend, and that she doesn't want to go back home, to Burmecia.

Right, before I forget, we start by Zidane acting like he forgot her, which is the very thing that she can't deal with. I found it very interesting, that we start with that. Also, after another loner with Squall, we have again someone not completely unsimilar, who thinks the worst thing that could happen, is for you to be forgotten.

In the castle, Garnet talks to Cid, telling him that her mother started acting strange, when her father died, and a suspicious man appeared in Alexandria. But no one takes Garnet, and her fears, serious - they think she is just sad, due to her fathers death. So, she decided to take the chance, and let herself get kidnapped by Tantalus. Which, funnily enough, was also the exact thing Cid had planned, and organized, as the Regent had promised Garnets father to protect her.

She also mentions the Black Mages, and their dangers. But Cid isn't scared, as he has a strong fleet of airships. In retrospect, this seems to make him careless. But even knowing what happens, after seeing them being produced, and than just harmless, doesn't prepare for when they only cry KILL and one-shot regular people. They are used as a new type of weapon, and, of course, the person who has the up-to-now best battle force in the world, doesn't expect to be in danger.

Thinking about it, does this world actually know black magic? It know white one, as Garnet is taught in this art, and characters have some random, special skills. But, as per custom of this series, these aren't magic (compare with VI, where Sabin knows pretty weird skills, that could be easily seen as magic, but isn't). So, no one probably knows how disastrous black magic even is.

Anyway, the plan is to fly to Brane, when the Hilda Gard 2 is ready, so they can talk to Brane.

Switching to Zidane, Vivi visits him in his inn room, asking about all the people here, where to go to be alone. But this isn't the city for this. Together with his stupid ways with women, this Cid starts to remind me of VIs Edgar, maybe in combination with Cid from IV. A technician, who invites new technology, and wants to create a prosperous kingdom, where people can live happily, except that he also includes the arts here.

Lindbulm, on the whole, is great, and feels sufficiently gigantic. Is this the first case, where we have a city that clearly has way more to offer, than we can actually explore? Like, this basis of showing us only a part of the whole is used later. Oh, right, Midgar is right there, of course, as is VIIIs Esthar. This feels like a great middle ground, a place with possibilities for everyone.

Vivi actually has developed a good deal, as he rejects Zidanes invitation to go to the Theater District, to Tentalus' hideout, together. Vivi wants to explore the city alone, despite it being such a big place. Dunno, feels like he is already more self-assured.

The hotel has the neat detail, of a former guest, Lani, complaining about the moogle in the other room. I guess they aren't good neighbours? Well, maybe that one is just a night-owl.

Pretty great, that the Lani who will later try to kill Vivi, has been here.

We get a few references - an old guy named Locke, and a stand called "Poloms Action Figures". In the weapon shop, when looking at the swords, Zidane thinks that he knows a guy with spiky hair, who used one of these.

There are a few ATEs, one of the about Steiner fainting, aber eating a Gysahl Pickle. But the interesting one came later, where we get a great shot of the city, when Steiner asks about directions. We learn, that the airships are powered by steam, which is way safer than Mist. At this point, the city had a certain similarity with Narshe, the steam everywhere.

In the Industrial District, we find a statue of Cid VIII, who developed the first Mist-powered airship, leading an armada a few years later, bringing peace to the continent. Considering we are talking about an armada (which brings back memories of Cecil), I can't help but think, that we are using an euphemism here.

After exploring the city (I also found an artist, hiding from his fans), I walk back to Garnets bedroom, but only Steiner is there. Zidane soon finds her, though, following her singing. To get up there, he has to beat up an old guard, to steal his uniform. This is probably a callback to what Locke did in VI. Except Locke beat up imperial, fascist soldiers, the enemy. Zidane just knocked an old guy unconscious - I guess he is old, when we find him, he sleeps.

On the top of the castle, we find Garnet. Like at the start, she looks at birds, and here I get it. They are a metaphor, she wants to be as free as them, just flying away, not being chained to the demands of her nobility.

When looking throw the telescope, there is a neat minigame(?), where we have to spot all the landmarks. It's pretty nice, as we get a bit of information on them all. Also, it's the moment where I understand, that the airships simply aren't powerful enough, to fly over the mountains, which is the reason for there to be gates. I don't think I ever made that connection.

Also, and I think someone here already talked about this - I find it pretty fun, that we see airships flying around when on the world map. It's the first time, since FF II. Lovely touch.

Garnet, though, is distressed. Her plan to get to Cid was unneccessary, as he had the same plan, and arranged for it. And she needs to be protected. Like she is a step behind everyone else, just creating trouble. To compare her with Rinoa again, Garnet is way more mature, unterstanding the trouble she might cause. Still, I really appreciate her as a person who is seeing a problem, and working proactively on it. I think she is too hard on herself, as she always takes useful feedback (so, more than "stay out of trouble") into account.

After the nonsense, with Zidane basically asking her to have sex with him, after she told him that she can't sleep (as mentioned, I found that gross, considering that she talked about her problems, and he only can think of how to get her into the same bed), she sings the song again. And we get one of my favourite things, where we listen, while looking at what the others are up to.

Specifically, it's all challenging stuff. Steiner learns, that people are fearing that Brane is preparing for war, which he doesn't accept. Vivi sees dolls, remembering that the other Black Mages were like dolls, too. And Freya mentions Sir Fratley, yearning to finally find him.

Aside from Zidane, everyone is confronted with an essential problem of their lives, right now. With Vivi and Freya, it is clear how they suffer. With Steiner, I tend to forget, as he immediately starts to jump up and down, demanding others to stop talking bad about the queen. He is funny. But with that, it is easy to overlook how painful that must be for him. He is absolutely loyal to his queen, to Alexandria as a whole. It is part of his being. Learning that what he thought of as absolutely right to be wrong must be a hard thing for him, especially because, as much as I love him, he simply isn't a deep thinker.

Zidane, though, just hopes to get a date with Garnet, if he wins the festival. I'll withold judgement for later, but with everyone having these clear problems, I start to feel like the writers dropped the ball on Zidane a bit. He starts to feel like a bit of a mimic with a basic personality, that is at least not too shallow. He is mainly a person in relation to others, it seems to me. I wished there was something, some sort of pain for him already. He mentions, that he doesn't even know how he got here, and that he always was a part of Tantalus, as far as he remembers. Why not starting already, to get something out of there?

I mean, I appreciate that he is someone who gets things done, and helps others. But for now, I can't help but think that all these other characters are more interesting than him.

Next, we have the Hunt, which is fun but nothing to write much about. Except for the cruel setup, of letting monsters out, just so people can kill them. Seems pretty barbaric.

I do beat the Zaghnol, but let Zidane faint - the Coral Ring seemed way more useful, than money or a card could be.

After the Hunt, right at the ceremony, a Burmecian soldier bursts in. He can only ask for help against an attack of an unknown force. He does mention, that the army is made up of Black Mages, making Vivis and Garnets alarm bells wring. Then, he dies.

I'm not quite sure anymore, why Cid can't dispatch some of his soldiers (I think they are on missions, or something?), but Freya, Garnet and Vivi have reason enough to go. Steiner, of course, doesn't want Garnet to go. And Zidane helps him, arguing that it is too dangerous. I actually kind-of see his point - she can't really attack, and the parts where they fought side-by-side was more a necessity, there was no choice but to fight.

That said, he should know by now, that she can hold her own, at least in a team, and that she isn't dead weight. It certainly didn't sit right with her - Garnet had already planned ahead, and got the sleepweed from him. To my surprise, instead of going to Burmecia (which Zidane also assumes), she takes Steiner along to go back to Alexandria. Well, she probably knows enough, it is clear that Alexandria has something to do with everything. So she might as well talk to Brane right now.

Our next goal is Gizamalukes Grotto (callback to FF III, of course). But first, I visit the Qu Marsh, to get Quina as my fourth party member. I like, that we have this person, for now as a secret member of the party, similar to how Mog in VI was not necessary to get in the WoB, or you could get Shadow, from time to time.

I love, that we also find the tutorial moogles here, and that they can also offer directions.

Soon, we meet Quina. I don't know if it is the fact that my rom is V1.1, but whenever someone talks about them, the game uses s/he, which I appreciate.

To make Quina be interested in us, we need to catch a frog first, and give it to them. At this point, Quale appears, and berates Quina for not even being able to catch their own food. So, they are just sent out into the world, to taste different things. Good enough.

Here we learn, that Vivis grandfather, Quan, was actually a Qu, or at least looked like these beings. This raises more questions for my favourite black mage, of course.

I spend a bit of time to catch a few frogs, before going outside and learning some Blue Magic. It's really great, nearly every enemy I came across from then on taught her a new spell, and as always, there is a lot of fun stuff in there. I also find the idea of Quina learning the spells by eating monsters delightful, as I do the character as a whole.

At this point, I also learn that tents don't heal everyone 100%. Not a big deal, I have enough, but that's a callback to older FFs I could have done without. It is also this part, mainly the Grotto, where I experience a difficulty spike. The whole game, up to this point, felt surprisingly...well, not hard, but less easy than most other FFs. I didn't have so much trouble with random encounters, since the beginning of FF III, I think (except for the endgame of the games, but that always has strong random monsters). Didn't last for long, the feeling of difficulty, but was a surprising experience.

I also make my way to the Chocobo Forest, of course, and spend quite some time with Chocobo Hot'n'Cold.

This was the first game, where I thought that there was no element from the last game, that got expanded on here. I was wrong. This feels like a way better version of the Chocobo minigame in VIII, way less punishing and just more fun. Plus, you can get pretty nice stuff, with the Chocographs. Most seem unaccessible for now, but I already found my first smoky chest, and visited the Chocobo Paradise, or whatever it was called.

Love seeing the Fat Chocobo again, after such a long time. And just the fact that our Chocobo, too, has a quest, is delightful. I really love everything that has to do with Chocobos in this game, it's their best incarnation, except for maybe the ones in V.

In Gizamalukes Grotto, we find more dead Burmecian soldiers, and find our first cases of Black Mages, who are trained to murder other people. Zorn and Thorn, too, appear, which is even for the player the final proof, that Alexandria is behind this.

I wonder, how these Black Mages are different from the ones on the airship. Those were peaceful, and actually recognised Vivi as one of their own. These, though, are just here to destroy and kill. Can you program them? I wonder how they work.

As mentioned, I had some trouble here, with the BMs, but also with the Lamias. It got easier, after I decided to use Vivis magic however I wanted. I already had over 20 ethers, so why not actually use them? Yeah, I can't get infinitely more, but I'm absolutely sure that I simply never used them, the other times I played these games.

I did manage to get the steals from Gizamaluke, including the staff that teaches Vivi Blizzara. With that, nearly all challenge was thrown out of the window, that spells just destroys everything, at the moment.

Like in III, Gizamaluke is in general not a monster, they even call him Master here. I don't remember what exactly it was in III, but here, he is controlled by Zorn and Thorn. Creepy jerks.

Near Burmecia, where I soon get to, it starts to rain. It is a nice effect, but that alone would be reason enough for me to find a different home. Cleyra is so much prettier and nicer.

I'll stop at this point. Next time: Burmecia, and our first interaction with Beatrix.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
Bonus post, because I remembered some concept art, that someone posted years ago on the second incarnation of TT. Found it easy enough, it's on this site (chrome tells me, that the site is not secure, just FYI). Some of this seems to be very early art, from back when the game wasn't supposed to be a mainline FF at all. I am completely unable to post some of the picture from there, so if you are interested, just go to the site. It shows a way more cartoony style, as well as dress-ups for different jobs - I guess there was an early idea of having a job system. One picture shows a Chocobo Copter.

On screenrant, I found a list with unused conept art from the series. Two pictures are from FF IX:

Final-Fantasy-Concept-Art-Brahne-Cat-Couch.jpg


This is just perfect. She is lying on a giant cat.

Final-Fantasy-Concept-Art-Lindblum-Market.jpg


The list argues, that this is a more colorful version of what the Lindblum market finally became. I don't know, but I love the bright colors in this picture.
 

4-So

Spicy
Bonus post, because I remembered some concept art, that someone posted years ago on the second incarnation of TT. Found it easy enough, it's on this site (chrome tells me, that the site is not secure, just FYI).
Good ol' GIA. I remember some of these, and that games looks vastly more interesting than the one we got.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
like with everything, Vivi makes it better
Co-sign!

The guard doesn't believe her, but thankfully, Garnets uncle Artania is working here as the guards supervisor. I guess he is her fathers brother, not Branes, right? They don't seem to be quite the same race.
AFAIK, Artania and Cid are not actually related to Garnet; she just calls them that because they're close family friends. Also, despite her appearance, Brahne is actually completely human.

We meet Regent Cid (so, Hilda is the actual queen, I guess?)
Cid's father was also a Regent, so I think this is just the title that Lindblum's rulers use. It's weird. Maybe they're like the Dutch Stadtholders.

It is also this part, mainly the Grotto, where I experience a difficulty spike. The whole game, up to this point, felt surprisingly...well, not hard, but less easy than most other FFs. I didn't have so much trouble with random encounters, since the beginning of FF III, I think (except for the endgame of the games, but that always has strong random monsters). Didn't last for long, the feeling of difficulty, but was a surprising experience.
Yeah, the Grotto was a bit of a nasty surprise for me as well. The skeletons, black mages and hornets aren't so bad, but the lamias can be quite nasty. I had to retreat out to restock my supplies. Thankfully it's a pretty short dungeon!

Near Burmecia, where I soon get to, it starts to rain. It is a nice effect, but that alone would be reason enough for me to find a different home. Cleyra is so much prettier and nicer.
I don't know if I'm starting to see references where none exist, but I wonder if it might be a nod to VI's Zozo: aside from the constant rain, both cities are also in disrepair (albeit of varying levels and due to different reasons). Or maybe it's just to constrast with Cleyra.

As much as the rain-drenched ruins makes for a moody setting (and is a suitably striking way to close the disc), I kind of wish they hadn't gone the route they did. Burmecia has a really interesting look to its architecture, but it gets obscured due to the rain, dark lighting and how everything is blown apart. Wish we got more time with the Burmecians all around, actually.

Also, not sure if you're peeking at a guide for this playthrough, so if not: be sure to buy Stiltzkin's wares when you encounter him here. His questline is easily missed but it ultimately rewards you with a Ribbon, so it's well worth it!
 

spines

cyber true color
(she/her, or something)
tonight i picked back up a file i was playing late last year. i got to esto gaza in november or so, and after a long stretch of not much story and a lot of annoying fights the birds that cast stop were a little bit of a last straw. for a while. it's not like they were insurmountable, and most of my characters have learned locomotion, after all; but even though over the course of the preceding few dungeons it became really clear to me what the game was doing beyond "trying to be as obnoxious as possible", it wasn't exactly an enticing start to a new area. and that's also not to say that this understanding makes me like all the mechanics per se, just that i recognize the ways the game pushes players to engage with them. as it is, playing on the ps1 version, it's a huge hassle, and for a long time i felt like the game was basically just about using stuff randomly until some of it seemed to work without causing ruinous counter-triggers and whatnot

but after quina rejoins i started trying to learn blue magic more dedicatedly, particularly because compared to other parts of the game the information it gives you with Eat and the various magic abilities is honestly a lot less obtuse than other characters' mechanics. i had picked up white wind early on, but i started using them all the time again, and managed to learn some more effective combo-type abilities, particularly limit glove, which, along with a couple abilities to help activate and protect against quina dying trying to use it...actually gives a lot of coherence and interest to the battles for something that could so easily feel like a total cheese strategy. i don't feel like dungeons involve as much scrambling randomly till i learn which skills and actions to use now, with having the coherence of using quina either as a trump card attacker or a strong AOE healer as a solid foundation to do things that actually feel like strategies. and it even makes the ATB rewarding, since with auto-haste the excitement of getting the first turn with them and blasting out one of the enemies (given the chance) is hugely rewarding even as it doesn't tend to completely trivialize the battle since it's not like limit glove explodes all the enemies at once. and against the last boss i fought i even got the satisfaction of using it as a finisher after spending a while understanding what all the boss seemed to do, since once i was confident in the strategy i finally activated quina's auto-life by attacking them with freya, then immediately covered them with a reflect from eiko. the boss cast bio before quina's bar filled up, but the reflect blocked it, perfectly setting up a final blow. that feels like the kind of feeling i've been waiting to get out of the game in some way, because so many bosses and other battles just have the relief at the end without much real satisfaction, like "that was annoying but thank god i didn't die and have to do that shit again"

obviously despite all this some strange and occasionally really cheap things have happened with the enemies (right before this boss one of the ambush battles started with both of the flying enemies casting twister and wiping the party out before i could do anything), but i'm definitely dreading trying to finish it less than i have been. so that's alright
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
AFAIK, Artania and Cid are not actually related to Garnet; she just calls them that because they're close family friends.
Oh, I know, I still remember that they only took Garnet in. I mainly wonder, if he is related to Brahne or her husband.

I don't know if I'm starting to see references where none exist, but I wonder if it might be a nod to VI's Zozo: aside from the constant rain, both cities are also in disrepair (albeit of varying levels and due to different reasons). Or maybe it's just to constrast with Cleyra.
Oh, nice catch. Maybe it is less a reference, and more a part of the fabric of the series, especially if you compare it to Cleyra?

Thinking about it, you basically have the reverse situation. In VI, you had Jidoor, a city of art with an emphasize on height, as a symbol of privilege. The poor people had to move to Zozo, a basically destroyed place, where it rains and you have encounters.
In IX, Cleyra is also a city with an emphasize on heights, even if it used differently. The people there are also mainly into art in different forms, rejecting how warlike the other people from their formerly shared city became (Zozo, too, is full of people willing to kill you).
Except here, the move away was voluntarily done, and the basis was the town where it always rains, instead of the nice and calm one.

Considering how Treno also took in some of Jidoors elements, I wouldn't be surprised if there has been some influence there. Thanks, for bringing this to my attention!

As much as the rain-drenched ruins makes for a moody setting (and is a suitably striking way to close the disc), I kind of wish they hadn't gone the route they did. Burmecia has a really interesting look to its architecture, but it gets obscured due to the rain, dark lighting and how everything is blown apart. Wish we got more time with the Burmecians all around, actually.
The architecture here is really amazing, it's one of the most beautiful places I can remember, throughout all the JRPGs I played (which is probably me just misremembering others, I only realized it here this time, as I normally don't really look too closely for this stuff - a shame, I should change that). Agreed, I would love to spend more time here.

That said, it is a great dungeon, just because it looks so awesome, and the rain sets the tone pretty well for you first encounter with Beatrix. On the whole, this is one of the rare JRPGs where I really enjoy the dungeons. Partly because they are so short, but also because they are so interesting to look at, and so pretty. I know, I'm repeating myself, but this game is so, so gorgeous.

Also, not sure if you're peeking at a guide for this playthrough, so if not: be sure to buy Stiltzkin's wares when you encounter him here. His questline is easily missed but it ultimately rewards you with a Ribbon, so it's well worth it!
Thanks for the heads-up, I didn't even know that you get something, if you buy all his sets. Will have to think about that, I generally want to avoid using guides.

tonight i picked back up a file i was playing late last year. i got to esto gaza in november or so, and after a long stretch of not much story and a lot of annoying fights the birds that cast stop were a little bit of a last straw. for a while. it's not like they were insurmountable, and most of my characters have learned locomotion, after all; but even though over the course of the preceding few dungeons it became really clear to me what the game was doing beyond "trying to be as obnoxious as possible", it wasn't exactly an enticing start to a new area. and that's also not to say that this understanding makes me like all the mechanics per se, just that i recognize the ways the game pushes players to engage with them. as it is, playing on the ps1 version, it's a huge hassle, and for a long time i felt like the game was basically just about using stuff randomly until some of it seemed to work without causing ruinous counter-triggers and whatnot

but after quina rejoins i started trying to learn blue magic more dedicatedly, particularly because compared to other parts of the game the information it gives you with Eat and the various magic abilities is honestly a lot less obtuse than other characters' mechanics. i had picked up white wind early on, but i started using them all the time again, and managed to learn some more effective combo-type abilities, particularly limit glove, which, along with a couple abilities to help activate and protect against quina dying trying to use it...actually gives a lot of coherence and interest to the battles for something that could so easily feel like a total cheese strategy. i don't feel like dungeons involve as much scrambling randomly till i learn which skills and actions to use now, with having the coherence of using quina either as a trump card attacker or a strong AOE healer as a solid foundation to do things that actually feel like strategies. and it even makes the ATB rewarding, since with auto-haste the excitement of getting the first turn with them and blasting out one of the enemies (given the chance) is hugely rewarding even as it doesn't tend to completely trivialize the battle since it's not like limit glove explodes all the enemies at once. and against the last boss i fought i even got the satisfaction of using it as a finisher after spending a while understanding what all the boss seemed to do, since once i was confident in the strategy i finally activated quina's auto-life by attacking them with freya, then immediately covered them with a reflect from eiko. the boss cast bio before quina's bar filled up, but the reflect blocked it, perfectly setting up a final blow. that feels like the kind of feeling i've been waiting to get out of the game in some way, because so many bosses and other battles just have the relief at the end without much real satisfaction, like "that was annoying but thank god i didn't die and have to do that shit again"

obviously despite all this some strange and occasionally really cheap things have happened with the enemies (right before this boss one of the ambush battles started with both of the flying enemies casting twister and wiping the party out before i could do anything), but i'm definitely dreading trying to finish it less than i have been. so that's alright
I didn't expect Horrible Birds to make a comeback. Quite a scary reference to these awful creatures from earlier games.

Glad to know you, uh, at least don't dislike it anymore, and get some more fun out of the game. That experience with the boss sounds like a really fun experience (after some frustration, I guess).
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
First, I want to post a few pictures I made, and forgot to share:

51990499794_1dfb801c31.jpg


The exit of the Ice Cavern. Just wanted to share how beautiful it looks.

51990500179_1ce19fd9d8.jpg


The Southern Gate, when Steiner and Garnet go back to Alexandria. The stuff in the background looks amazing.

51990771485_ca713d8f8f.jpg


The Chocobo Paradise (I think, I forgot the name), including the beautiful Fat Chocobo. It's just such a delightfully bizarre part of the game, and I love that there is this weird place where these birds hang out and have fun, in the middle of Outer Space.

51990771750_32fdb885b5.jpg


A gate near Burmecia, with a burning smell. I guess Alexandrians came from the other side, Black Mages burning people? Again, another instance of this game looking gorgeous. Just look at the flowers in the foreground.

--------------------------------------------------

With that, let's get back to Burmecia. Freya explains, that it is hard for her to come back, after so many years, despite always missing the place. I'm actually not quite sure why. It's not like she went away in shame, she was just looking for Fratley. Is it shameful for her, not to have found him? Does she feel, like she abandoned her home? Is she afraid of being forgotten, or not welcome anymore, that she lost her home? Can't she bear seeing it, without her beloved person?

Inside, we soon meet Zorn and Thorn, who send Black Mages after us. We also find a few mimics, who aren't that bad, thankfully.

A bit further inside, Freya has second thoughts. She fears to see nothing but ruins. I guess that is the problem, that she feels ashamed of not being there, when the attack happened, and so she feels shame for not protecting her home.

In contrast to her fear, we see Vivi, who actually is more couragious than her. She feels, like she can't go on. But he, too, is deeply scared of learning more about the Black Mages, and himself. Still, there is no question for him, he must go on.

I find this interesting, and it feels nearly like a deconstruction of the Dragoon, the ultimate loner, who, even in a fight, vanishes from the party for most of the time. With the idea, that being alone is a sign of strength. When we see Freya, a seasoned warrior, being weaker than the scared Black Mage. Not to critizise Freya, who I adore, I just think it is a neat bit of character.

Seconds later, we get the first glimpse at the hate Vivi will have to deal with, from now on. Burmecians are fleeing, thinking Vivi is one of the mindless attackers, who so brutally kill everyone. Freya clears this up, as this is Dan, an old acquaintance of her, who flees to protect his family. She feels, like he is abandoning the king - not judging him, but wanting to help here, instead of running away. It is quite understandable that he doesn't stay (as mentioned, I at least don't think that Freya judges him), as he has a family to protect and care for.

Further inside, Zidane saves another Burmecian from being crushed by a crumbling statue. With how bleak this is, I still want to echo conchobars mention of the beautiful architecture in this place. It is probably one of the most beautiful cities, I have ever explored in a JRPG. Here, take a look at that one statue:

51990772035_2c49ba434c_z.jpg


The whole city looks this great, it's amazing.

A bit further in, we find Stilzkin, finally catching up to him. He is selling us his first set. I'm not sure how useful this is, as I always just buy it, and I didn't even know about it being a sidequest. But he finances his travels that way, so I totally give him my money. I love Stilzkin, best moogle in the series.

51990275033_d8a1708218_o.png


In the throne room, we hide behind some pillars, and listen to Brane and Beatrix, "the cold-blooded knight who knows no mercy". She seems to have quite a reputation. Knowing about her made Fratley leave, so he could train and become stronger. And he never came back. Rumors about his death, of course, started to appear.

Short story time: When I was 19, I had my first job (in Austria, everyone man has to serve either in the military for six months, or do some civil service job for nine months - I chose the Red Cross). There, I had my first really bad crush on a colleague. After the service time was over, we soon lost contract, but I still needed a year to get over it, and be in a better place, it was pretty rough (I know, something like this happens to most people, I'm not trying to get sympathies, it's just relevant for the story).

Point is, I replayed this game at that time. Freya, even before, was a favourite due to her design. But when we learn more about her love for Fratley, here and later on, when we learn that he DOESN'T remember her, I felt so much for her. My heart broke with her, it was only now, that I understood how horrible a broken heart feels. Which is a reason why she will always be one of my very favourite FF characters.

Freya went out into the world, looking for him. But she never found him, a burden that lasted on her shoulders for five years. While it doesn't hit me that hard anymore, I still really feel for her.

Anyway, we get our first glimpse at Kuja, and learn that he provided Brane with the Black Mages. Considering that they are only tools to these people, he is basically a weapons dealer. He suggests, that the king has fled to Cleyra, protected by a sandstorm. Kuja promises to find a way in.

The reputation is nice, it being known as the "City of Illusions", and even Freya only having heard rumors. There was a split between people in Burmecia, and some who thought that the place became too war-like decided to settle elsewhere. Couldn't help but think of Vulcans and Romulans, even if there, the situations is reversed, if my memory is correct.

Freya and Zidane are basically forced out of hiding, as a Burmecian soldier appears and wants to attack. Until he learns, that he is facing Beatrix. Freya sends the soldier away, and we learn that Beatrix once killed a hundred knights, single-handedly.

So, Beatrix is basically a new interpretation of Celes. A cold-blooded, female general, highly skilled, doesn't really care about the people she kills. Beatrix seems to be Celes, before Celes realized how horrible the Empire had become.

Except, that Beatrix doesn't kill us. Which seems odd. The battle, at least the first one, is quite challenging, especially when it starts with Beatrix just killing two guys in two rounds, with a super-attack of hers. It gets doable afterwards, her other attacks are strong, but not that bad.

I know, people don't like boss battles that can't be won, but I always enjoyed them. It makes the enemy seem so incredibly strong and dangerous, and is really soul crushing. Up to now, we overcame every challenge, including the Black Waltzes. But here? When she realizes that we are at least a bit capable, she just destroys us with one attack. Ending the fight, by complaining that she just can't find a worthy opponent.

This is something I can totally see Celes say, when she is still the terrifying general. Except, as mentioned, Beatrix doesn't kill us. And she won't kill anyone in Cleyra either. So, maybe she is a bit of a mix of Celes and Leo - extremely loyal, and blind to what her leader has become, but also terrifyingly strong, with a reputation that makes even her name fearsome. And yet, someone who has a certain moral code, who maybe doesn't want to kill, if not absolutely necessary.

I don't think, we see her kill anyone, at least not until she realizes that she is on the wrong side. The Black Mages where here, too, and I guess they did the killing. And that she has second thoughts about that, is something that we know.

But then, her soldiers don't seem to have these scruples, so maybe I'm giving her too much credit here.

Before Kuja flies away, he makes a comment about Zidane maybe becoming a problem. I guess he knows what's up, especially with Zidanes tail. And, considering his character (I can't help but be reminded of Aladdins Jaffar - Kuja seems negatively queer-coded, in the same way Jaffar or Scar were), I am not surprised that he doesn't take this potential threat serious enough.

Clearly, we should be dead here. There is no point in letting us live, except for plot armor. But I think there is just enough there, to make a good case for why it is in character for our enemies, not to kill us.

That said, it is quite a bummer for an ending of the first disc. We just learned how helpless we were, how much stronger our enemies are. All that in the ruins of a city where it always rains.

On disc 2, we switch to Garnet and Steiner, soon arriving at Summit Station. While she is sleeping, he clearly starts to have doubts about Brane, but doesn't want to accept the possibility, that she might be really behind anything. As always, he avoids them by focusing on protecting Garnet. On a break, they meet Cinna and Marcus, with the latter going to Treno, to look for the supersoft, a cure for the petrified Blank. I think, we mainly get him, so that we have another thieve in the party, for the time.

There is one more fight with Black Waltz No 3, still driven by his mission, despite looking nearly dead. Despite him fighting us, the whole thing felt rather sad. Considering how some Black Mages will, at some point, get a sense of self, it feels pretty awful, seeing this one being only driven by the desire to kill.

This topic, of murder weapons of great destruction, who are also actually living beings, will come back later, and I will talk about it then. I just wanted to mention it here.

Garnet decides to come along with Marcus, helping to look for a cure, but also curious for the sights. Again, reminds me of Rinoa, especially with Marcus not looking forward to babysit a princess, and her not necessarily doing it, because it is right (it, at least, seems secondary) and more because she wants to show Zidane that she is capable of doing things. There is a bit of a spoiled princess in there, I guess.

I make a short detour to Dali, but still can't get the chest in the windmill. A get a thematic flashback to FF VII, when the old lady at the pumpkin patch is sad, when she remembers that the larger part of the farm was destroyed for the production of Black Mages. Like, good, useful work was sacrificed for a wrong kind of progress. It is even worse here, as the mages aren't even created for anything but murdering people. I first wrote "produced" instead of "created", but that feels just too wrong.

My point with the comparison was to say, that we have someone who is yearning back for something that was lost, a better time, when looking at what technology brought them.

Next, we visit the Dark City Treno, which has a very long night. As mentioned before, it reminds me of Jidoor, from FF VI, with it being a place for rich people and an auction house. But this also drove thieves to this city, it isn't really a save place, despite the pretty buildings. Steiner complains to Marcus, that people like him have made this place into a slum, and it just shows once more how dence Steiner can be. Even with the cartoony exterior of this world, it still seems implied that there is quite a bit of poverty, and that there are nobles who are just stuffed with money. Maybe they could not take everything for themselves, and the poor people wouldn't be so poor, that they have to steal to survive. Just a thought.

Two children act this out, by playing poor people, who were driven away to live in the mountains by the rich people. Quite a reminder of Jidoor and Zozo. There is also a drunken man here, but I can't quite tell if he is homeless, or just too drunk to find his way. Considering the other signs, I'm inclined to think it's the former, with him standing for a lot of other homeless people we just don't see.

Here is another beautiful place, the house of Stella, who will give us stuff if we get her the Stellazios:

51990275193_4652e99271.jpg


I think the water is even moving.

There are quite a few nice ATEs, with one being particularly interesting, as it shows Garnet seeing Kuja, and trying to remember where she knows him from. Or maybe she does remember? I at least forgot this detail.

Next, Garnet and Steiner find Marcus and Baku in an inn, where they plan to steal the supersoft. It's a funny scene, where Garnet decides to come along, helping with the stealing, and Steiner just following her, trying to tell her that she can't do that. But she does, and with his simple rule, "protect the princess", he basically has no choice but to follow along. Baku raises a good point here, asking Steiner if he even knows why he is here. That one rule is all he thinks about, because it allows him not to think about anything else, always dodging the hard questions.

There is a short switch to the auction house, where we learn that Kuja and the auctioneer are working together. Kuja immediately shows his true colors with Brane, and complains about her offending his senses. He asks the auctioneer, if he will deliver "them", and I'm actually not quite sure what "them" means. The Black Mages are created by Kuja, so, is he talking about these teleport pods? That's the only thing I can think of.

He also shows, that he actually wanted Garnet to be here. I guess he is happy that she is coming back to Alexandria?

When switching back, the thieves are riding on the boat to the place where the supersoft is. Steiner still tries to push away every actual thought, but it is clear that it is, slowly, getting through to him, that Brane isn't quite the good monarch he thinks she is.

There is this line that stood out to me, though: "How could a lowly knight like me understands the queens thinking?" The idea of some people, specifically royalty, being better then other, just because, clings through very harshly here.

Garnet realizes, that she, too, doesn't quite know why she is going along here. She never thought of stuff like this before, like stealing anything. Letting herself getting kidnapped, and reaching Lindblum, probably made her rushing through things, and now she realizes how her live, and herself, has changed. I guess the Garnet from a year ago, before her father died, was a very different person, not thinking about taking action of this kind too much. She was forced to grow up, when her mother changed. She was always a smart person, that is implied when we soon see her old teacher, but I guess that was more academically focused.

Speaking of, the one who owns the supersoft is her old teacher, Doctor Tot, who went away, when he realized how much Brane had changed. We move to his place, a closed off tower, where we also find a giant globe. We learn, that the planets name is Gaia, and about phrases from 500 years ago - "jewel" and "summoner tribe". The jewel is supposed to be related to the pendant Garnet took along, at the start of the game. Soon, Tot shows us a way to reach Alexandria, an old railroad system, Gargan Roo.

When finally getting back to Alexandria, we are immediately caught in a trap by Zorn and Thorn. All, including the princess, are under arrest.

I still remember being shocked about this. It's probably part of Brane not caring about anyone anymore (I REALLY wished, we could get a handful of scenes, that show her from earlier, as the benevolent queen and good mother she once had been), but that they didn't understand that Steiner was trying to do his duty (no idea, what they are actually charging him with) seemed really strange to me.

With that, we switch back to Zidane and his group. Freya wants to enter Cleyra, of course, and Zidane comes along. Here I got this feeling for the first time, that he just comes along to help other people, but without him being actaully involved in anything. Sure, he helps Freya, and does the right thing, but it seems to make him kind-of lacking, especially compared to the others. It felt like a lack of depth, here.

Which might be a mean read. I generally do like, that we have a hero who helps people, just because it is the right thing to do.

With that, we climb Cleyras Trunk, and I honestly still don't understand how, exactly, the sandstorm protects Cleyra. I mean, against Airships probably, but if this group of four weirdos can just walk up there, what is supposed to stop Alexandria to just let their soldiers enter, too? It's really not hard to get up there. It never made much sense to me, and still doesn't. But I don't think I ever encountered one of these great protections, that seemed pretty lackluster when the hero just makes it through. The only instance where I bought it was, actually, in FF II, where you have to jump through so many hoops, and are even eaten by a giant seamonster, to get the Ultima spell.

I think I start to get tired, so I'll stop here. Next time: Cleyra, Fratley and being again horribly beaten by Beatrix.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
Cleyra is a beautiful place. I mean, all the cities in these games are crafted beautifully, but it seems like such a nice place to live. When reaching it, the Forest Oracle Kildea recognizes Freya, and greets us. The king is, indeed, hiding here.

I like the little bit of trivia, that water is brought up from the ground, by windmills which are driven by the strong winds.

As always when we reach a new city, we get some ATEs (after Kildea showed Vivi and Zidane around). One of them shows poor Vivi being, again, taken for one of the unaware Black Mages, who are just killing machines at this point. The poor guy really doesn't have it easy, finding out about him being not naturally born, but produced, and his species being used as mindless weapons. And, just because he is of the same race, being thought of as guilty for all the things the other Black Mages do (which they, too, aren't responsible for). And yet, he doesn't give up, but carries on, and on, and on. Vivi is great and very strong. Sure, having someone to back you up is important (who know, where he would be without Zidane, Steiner and Garnet?), but he uses this help to draw a ton of strength out. It's really great to witness (and painful, of course).

I wished there was a bit more...maybe not antagonism, but something about the cultural differences between Burmecian and Cleyrans. There ancestors were once one people, so you might expect some difficulty in taking in outsiders. But nothing, Cleyrans are basically the nicest people ever, and it works out perfectly.

There is a little side-thing, where the peaceful antlion has gone wild (similar to Gizamaluke, so it has probably to do with Kuja and maybe the chesters), and is attacking a prince. This is one of the most obvious callbacks in the game, going back to FF IV, even if the details are different. Funnily enough, the prince is the ratboy from the very start, who helped Vivi get into the theater in Alexandria.

We soon learn, that the king hasn't seen his son in ages. Which, uh, I'm impressed that the boy was able to make it through the Mist, and somehow even to Alexandria, without dying.

Freya is asked to help with a ritual to strengthen the sandstorm. Still feeling bad for not being there to protect Burmecia, she, of course, accepts. I really enjoy watching the riverdancing rat-people, it's a delightful scene.

But during the ritual, the harp, using a magic stone to create the sandstorm, I guess, has its strings breaking. And the sandstorm disappears. The game isn't too clear about this, but I guess you need someone to play the harp at all times, or else the gem wouldn't keep the sandstorm going. And now, without strings, the protection is gone. There is no clear explanation, which is a bit of a shame, but considering how Kuja talked earlier, it's clear that he is behind this.

With this dark omen, we switch back to Alexandria, where we help Steiner and Marcus escape out of a hanging cage, while Garnet is imprisoned inside her room. We learn, that Brahne started acting strange since Garnets birthday last year, I think around the time her father died. Kuja appeared, Tot felt that things were changing for the worse and left, and Brahne herself changed.

In Buffy (I know, but I still like the show despite Whedon being the worst, and I think there is still a lot of good to get out of it, especially when it comes to themes), there is a theme of birthdays being days of growing up. Which means, bad things happen, as this is what being adult means: Dealing with bad things. Considering how we celebrate birthdays, it's a grim, but actually fitting, reminder of this.

This game goes with the same theme. On Garnets last birthday, her father died and her mother changed (essentially, she lost both her parents, and her tutor, who she had a good relationship with, too). Considering how much this game feels like a fairytale at times, I think it would be fair to read Kujas appearance as a step-dad, who takes over the household and makes it worse, influencing the mother to turn away from giving love to her child.

And this year, again near Garnets birthday, her Eidolons are extracted from her, which is an insane violation of her rights and just of her. I would guess, it is similar to losing an arm, or something like this, maybe less clear.

Point is, birthdays in this game are not days to celebrate, but force you into adulthood, with all the horrors that can entail.

After waiting for some time, Zorn and Thorn appear in Garnets room, demanding that she appears before the queen. The game explicitely points out how off it feels, that they don't show the least bit of respect with her. I do wonder, are they Kujas creatures? Surely if they were regular chesters, they wouldn't be able to cast spells, and fuse into a horrible abomination. So, the lack of respect is probably not too surprising.

When in front of Brahne, the queen acts all nice, and tries to sell the attack on Burmecia as self-defence, as these horrible rat-people were about to attack themselves. Garnet is, of course, way too smart to buy this nonsense.

Kuja appears, too, and does another weird talk, like all of this is just a play, wanting to play a part in this act. He is very creppy, and the most disgusting drama queen ever. With that, Brahne shows her true face and demands that the chesters extract Garnets Eidolons from her.

We switch back to Cleyra, where Freya promises not to let the same thing happen to this city, as did happen to Burmecia. We go down the trunk, fighting pairs of Alexandrian soldiers, until we realize that this is a trap, there are way too few of those.

When running back, we see Beatrix appear, and it's a real "oh, shit" moment. I feel like the game did a really good job of making her the harbinger of doom, showing that things are bad.

In the city, Black Mages are just teleported in, and simply kill people. I can't imagine how horrible this has to be for the refugees - having lost their homes and forced to flee to a place that was expected to be untouchable, just to find out that they aren't save here, either. Not that it would be much easier for the Cleyrans, who aren't even warriors, assuming that they were in complete protection.

A stray thought leads me to the beginning of the third season of Last Airbender, when the walls of Ba-Singh-Se are torn down, and the refugees and citizens look in horror, as the fire nation soldiers get inside. Just horrible.

Zidane is trying to lead at least a few people to safety, into the cathedral. I'm glad to get everyone there who I could save. But still, that the unaware Black Mages are just teleported everywhere is pretty intense, the advantage that this destructive magic gives to Brahne is insane. She basically jumped ahead of everyone else, far beyond what an airship fleet (or any kind of magical defense) could defend against.

At the cathedral, we get surrounded, but then saved by Sir Fratley, who slays a bunch of the Black Mages. Inside, Freya is overjoyed to see him, but soon realizes in horror, that he has lost nearly all of his memories. I already talked about this, and don't think I have much more to say. I simply, still, find it heartbreaking to watch this scene. While realizing that it is undermined, by the attack that is still going on. There isn't really time for grieve, at this moment.

This is shown by the appearance of Beatrix, who simply takes the gem inside the harp. We follow, and a second battle with her ensues, which goes as bad as the first one. And yet, she doesn't kill us. Everyone but Quina follows, as we learn that the teleportation method of the Black Mages can be used by other people, too.

While teleporting, there is an FMV of Brahne gloating about getting Odin out of Garnet. And she uses him, to completely obliterate Cleyra. It completely blows the city away, leaving nothing there, which probably means that nearly all of the people there are now dead. I know that at least some appear later in Lindblum, but it seems like a near genocide of these people. Odin himself, the way he attacks - I can't help but be reminded of an atomic bomb, when seeing this one attack that is so insanely destructive.

I know, summons aren't nearly that strong when we will later use them. But they are a hell of a thing to see here, weapons of total destruction. Another upgrade from the already too intense power of the Black Mages, that no one was prepared for.

On the airship, we see Freya being emotionally destroyed, but as mentioned, there simply is no time. And it's a bit of a shame, that the game never will take the time to let her simply grieve for a bit of time.

Everyone hides, as Beatrix appears, not realizing we are here. And she talks to herself, being frustrated by the usage of Black Mages and Odin. She feels like she is thrown away, as the queen now has something stronger than soldiers.

Some time back, I compared the usage of Black Mages (the unaware ones basically killing machines) with the use of creatures from Hell, in FF II. I now think that it isn't such a bad comparison. Even if the people might not be replaced, the soldiers certainly are, slowly but steadily. Instead of thinking human beings, who can be humane, we get creatures who can't think for themselves, and simply kill everything on sight. It is a scary thought.

As Black Mages walk past Beatrix, she doesn't even know what differentiates her from them. They are all just puppets, following orders blindly. And she thinks "Maybe Steiner was right."

This is a pretty big deal, as up to now, she didn't seem to have any respect for the knight. And she starts to think for herself. Beatrix is clearly smarter then Steiner, but she is still blinded by loyalty to her kingdom, just like he was. Also, she seems to be focused so much on her martial prowess, that she might not think too much about the orders she follows. Which doesn't speak too highly of her - Garnet has seen the signs for a year now, Tot just went away. Sure, Steiner is simply not that smart, but Beatrix is. She just looked the other way, probably not caring, because all she did was train.

She brings the gem to Brahne, who is overjoyed, but doesn't have a single word of praise for her top soldier. No respect, no interest. Why should she? Beatrix might be able to compete with Black Mages, but there are infintely more of those. And against a summon? She is nothing. Beatrix simply isn't needed.

It really doesn't speak too highly of her, that she only now realizes that something is very wrong, when she herself doesn't get the respect anymore, that she is accustomed to.

But it is implied, that she cares about Garnet, as she asks the queen about her. And Brahne, monster that she has become, tells her that the princess is to be executed, due to having stolen the royal jewel.

I'm not sure, when exactly Beatrix changes sides. But we do fight her, even with Steiner in the party, and she only sees us as enemies. So she, too, is too stubborn to get the reality, until it smacks her in the face, by seeing in what state Garnet is, a bit later. Despite knowing what the queen wants to do with her daughter, Beatrix still stays loyal.

You know, I always loved Beatrix, because she is just really cool, with her powerful moves. But thinking about her this much really shows her in an awful light. She is smart enough to realize things are off. She just doesn't seem to care, and follows orders, probably just to get more fights. Beatrix seems to, actually, be a really horrible person.

I really love her theme (youtube link), though.

With all that, Vivi suggests to try the pods they appeared in, and they work as teleporters to Alexandria. Soon, Zidane, Freya and Vivi find Steiner, and together, they are on their way to save Garnet.

We learn, that the airship that Brahne uses is the Red Rose, which is a neat callback to FF II.

There is a 30 minute time limit, but I only need four or so, to find her and start the fight against Zorn and Thorn. It really felt good, to finally hit these disgusting creeps, but to my disappointment, they don't fuse, but flee. In battle, they reference Palom and Porom, as they can together cast really powerful spells. Not that it helps, focusing on one makes the battle really easy. I think both Steiner and Zidane were brutally strong here.

We bring Garnet to her bedchamber, where Steiner finally has to realize, that his queen isn't the good person she once was. I think it is the first time, where Zidane uses his real name, as Steiner is just beyond himself with anger and lack of understanding.

Back when he and Garnet reached the summit, before fighting the Black Waltz No 3, he made clear how much he loved this land, the whole of Alexandria. He is deeply loyal, it means the world to him, and protecting it, and the royal family who stand for the land, is the point of his live - hence his focus on protecting Garnet. And he now has to deal with the realization that the queen he admires so much, has become a monster.

But there isn't much time, as Zorn and Thorn appear, together with Beatrix. As mentioned, she sees Steiner but doesn't care. We are the enemies, and have to fight her a third time. And, while the battle ends like the others, she didn't really feel that threatening anymore. I could easily take a lot of punishment from her, by this point. Still, I appreciate what the game did here.

Only after the fight, when Zidane points out that Garnet is lying there, does she finally start to think. Asking Freya for forgiveness, honestly, feels incredibly lacking here. Freya also doesn't absolve her of her crimes, but she offers to team up, to fight for Garnet. But, yeah, this apology feels incredibly cheap. She helped nearly whiping out these people, destroying the two cities they lived in, without caring. And now, she asks for forgiveness, just so. It's not that easy.

It does feel good, having her and Freya team up, though. I wished the game had just given her more MP, so we could spam her super-powerful skills, killing the monsters in one blow. It doesn't matter (if you use MP now, they will be immediately filled up again, I tried it).

And so, we flee, in a great sequence, where we see Beatrix and Freya keep the Bandersnatches that are sent after them away, jumping all over the place. It's fun to watch, and to experience.

Before finally going, Steiner, too, has second thoughts. He can't just leave Beatrix and Freya, he has to go back, and help them. He, too, uses Zidanes real name now, and it is clear that, in an emergency, they can and do depend on each other. It grew gradually, but they developed a bond over time, and I think the game did a really good job here. Steiner tells Zidane to bring Garnet to Dr. Tot, and leaves, helping the others.

Thorn and Zorn try to use the trap on us again, but Marcus and Blank, who was freed by Marcus in ATEs, knock the jerks out, and we go away. The Gargantua that carries us is soon chased by some worm-monster things, and runs way too fast. We are thrown out, at Pinnacle Rock.

We switch to Brahne for a short time. Thorn and Zorn are in disgrace for letting us escape. She has two guests, assassins - one of them our future party member Amarant, the other Lani, who is a jerk and who complained about the Moogle in the inn in Lindblum. She carries a pretty badass axe with her. Beatrix just wants the pendant from Garnet back, not caring if the princess dies in the process, and the clear instruction to kill Vivi, the Black Mage that went out of control, in her mind. Not allowed to have agency, these puppets.

Amarant makes it immediately clear, that he wants to fight Zidane. Brahne, hating him, offers an extra award for his death. And now, she will depart with her fleet.

Back at Pinnacle Rock, which is near Lindblum Castle, Vivi, Garnet and Zidane are ok. While talking, Ramuh appears, and I'm reminded of how he helped Terra back in VI. Garnet knows the name, that he is an Eidolon, the Thunder God. She asks him to get more powerful, to be able to summon. She doesn't want to be afraid of this magic anymore.

He will help, but wants to test her first. By finding five story pieces. I think people dislike this part, but I disagree. Especially having played FF II now, and getting told the story of Josef with added interpretation is pretty fun. Here is the story in its parts:

Once upon a time, 33 small countries fought together against an empire. One day, a rebel troop visited a man named Joseph, who lived with his daughter. Owing a debt to the troop, he gladly accepted their plea for help. They headed for a cavern in the snow field. - Beginning

With Joseph's help, the troop defeated the adamantoise in the snow field cavern, and acquired the Goddess Bell they needed to enter the Empire's castle. - Cooperation

On their way home, they fell into a trap set by a traitor. Joseph gave his life ot save the troop. The troop left without telling Joseph's daughter, Nelly, about the tragedy. - Silence

The fact that they didn't report Joseph's death to his daughter was indicative of their guilt to protect him. In the end, heroes are also human. - Human

Although Joseph's death was not reported to his daughter, the manner of his death speaks for itself. This is the story of a true hero. - Hero


Considering the limitations of the NES, I totally buy that there were 33 countries, banding together against the Empire. And while I think we do tell his daughter about his death, it's a nice interpretation, giving some depth to the group of heroes. Also, Josef was awesome, and he has earned to get his story told, to be a hero in this world. I really like this part, including the choice we can let her make. We are only allowed to choose four parts, you see. I left out the third one, Silence, letting Garnet argue that the hero who acts in a straightforward manner is remembered for generations, implying that he will inspire people in the future.

With that, Garnet gets the Peridot, the gem that lets her summon Ramuh. I never mentioned it, but she had some of the classical summons, like Bahamut and Shiva, but not Ramuh. But they were way too expensive to cast.

So, we never hear anything about Garnet being scared of summoning, so, what is up here? Later on, we learn that her horn was painfully removed from her. Maybe this traumatized her so much, that she was too scared to use the power that was still in her. She wanted to fit in, to be one of the people - summoning would have estranged her from everyone, and the forceful removal of her horn just made it all the more clear, that she had to be one of them. I really can't help, but read this as something about queerness, being loved if you act like you should, not like you are, hiding your true self. With parents that love you, as long as you are a regular person, but who even traumatize you, just so you will definitely be one.

Because we are all puppets, and have our roles to play in this society, or at least that's what many people tend to think, even when it comes to who you are. I never realized how much this game is about this, about roles that are forced upon you (I always did to a certain degree, but never realized how much it applied to EVERYONE).

This is the main theme of this game, I think. Being puppets, just doing what we are told, with people who want to force us into our role, even trying to kill us, if we step out of it, only to search for and find people, who accept you as you are. Choosing your family. Choosing your home.

I once read a short story collection of Michael Ende, author of the Neverending Story. Most stories, I forgot (despite them all being pretty good, that at least stuck), but one taught me something. A home isn't just a place, a building, a city. People, too, can be a home. Your family, no matter if it is by blood or by choice - if you are welcome with them, and feel like they accept you as you are, than they can be your home too. No matter where they are.

And this game here is a lot about finding a home.

Garnet got her power back, because she wanted to, because she finally accepted it as a part of her. Something that might be scary, but that also gave her power to help and protect others. Decreasing the MP costs of the summons is pretty clever, I think. Something that scares you is way harder to do than something you like.

As we walk off, ending our short break from all the insanity that is happening, we watch the next horrifying scene: Lindblum is attacked by the Red Rose, the Black Mages storm into the city and Atomos is summoned. I think it's his first appearance as a summon, a new boss who is referenced in that way, similar to how the game always liked to do things. Except that he is incredibly more horrifying than his incarnation in V. Stuff of nightmares.

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I think that's enough for now. Next time, we revisit Lindblum and go to another continent, which is a big deal in this world.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
With that, we climb Cleyras Trunk, and I honestly still don't understand how, exactly, the sandstorm protects Cleyra. I mean, against Airships probably, but if this group of four weirdos can just walk up there, what is supposed to stop Alexandria to just let their soldiers enter, too? It's really not hard to get up there. It never made much sense to me, and still doesn't.
When the party first arrives, Freya says that "the tempest subsides" and is shocked by that, so I think the idea is that the sandstorm is unusually calm when they arrive. I do agree it's pretty anti-climactic, though; most RPGs would have sent you to find some magical doodad first.

Considering how much this game feels like a fairytale at times, I think it would be fair to read Kujas appearance as a step-dad, who takes over the household and makes it worse, influencing the mother to turn away from giving love to her child.
Interesting read, and very appropriate. I like it!

I really like this part, including the choice we can let her make. We are only allowed to choose four parts, you see. I left out the third one, Silence, letting Garnet argue that the hero who acts in a straightforward manner is remembered for generations, implying that he will inspire people in the future.
Wait, you can leave out "Silence"? I thought it was a choice between ending with "Human" or "Hero"! Now I wonder if either of the other two can be skipped as well…
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
Wait, you can leave out "Silence"? I thought it was a choice between ending with "Human" or "Hero"! Now I wonder if either of the other two can be skipped as well…
That's what my note says, at least. I might have written it down wrong, but I don't think I did? I was actually confused when consulting my notes here, surprised myself that I left out something else than "Hero" or "Human". Hmm, I wished I could go back, and try all five different combinations.
 
There is a little side-thing, where the peaceful antlion has gone wild (similar to Gizamaluke, so it has probably to do with Kuja and maybe the chesters), and is attacking a prince. This is one of the most obvious callbacks in the game, going back to FF IV, even if the details are different. Funnily enough, the prince is the ratboy from the very start, who helped Vivi get into the theater in Alexandria.
Yeah, the whole Cleyra sequence is kind of like a weird remix of Damcyan, using a bunch of the same things - the desert, the prince, the antlion, the harp, the ruby, the airship attack, the lost lover - to tell a very different story. The way FFIX handles callbacks like this is really cool.

You know, I always loved Beatrix, because she is just really cool, with her powerful moves. But thinking about her this much really shows her in an awful light. She is smart enough to realize things are off. She just doesn't seem to care, and follows orders, probably just to get more fights. Beatrix seems to, actually, be a really horrible person.
Yeah. Beatrix is set up to remind you of Cecil and Celes, or maybe even Seifer, but ultimately she's more like Leo than anyone else, and like him, she gets to be redeemed in the way the story presents her because we technically never see her kill anyone herself, I guess. She is cool, but she's hard to like on any level beyond that.

That's what my note says, at least. I might have written it down wrong, but I don't think I did? I was actually confused when consulting my notes here, surprised myself that I left out something else than "Hero" or "Human". Hmm, I wished I could go back, and try all five different combinations.
I played this part recently and still had my save there, so I tried some different combinations, including leaving out Silence. It doesn't seem like Ramuh will accept any answers besides the correct sequence ending with either Human or Hero. It's easy to get the pieces of the story mixed up, though, since the order you have to put them in, the order they appear in in the menu when you're putting them together and (probably) the order you'll find them in are all different.
 
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