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

FelixSH

(He/Him)
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.
Weird. But thanks for checking.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
He will help, but wants to test her first. By finding five story pieces. I think people dislike this part, but I disagree.

I'm not sure if I've seen people talk about it often but it's my favourite scene in the game. Part of it's purely structural, with it sandwiched between the high-octane action sequence coming out of the Gargan Roo, and going into the spectacle of Lindblum's destruction--here you just have this quiet intermission despite the narrative's ongoing urgency, as if being drawn into a liminal world. "Awakened Forest" props up that notion, beside also being among the soundtrack's best, in lending a sleepy ambience to the location, which also plays a part in its unique atmosphere: Pinnacle Rocks is an isolated place where you cannot freely step into even if you discover it early on, and this accidental passing through it is the only time you can linger there for a time, never to return again. It's very ephemeral for that and that it houses Ramuh's dwelling just elevates the supernatural faerieland feel of it.

The reconstructed story of Josef is of course the centerpiece of it and I just can't adore it enough. It's everything I want a game like IX's stated and lived premise to be in how it treats prior material, incorporating past threads and weaving them meaningfully into its own storytelling. Who in the end spared much thought for Josef? He's from one of the least popular games in the series, and one of its briefest starring roles, but he was also the first Final Fantasy death. IX's common themes orbit around a sense of mortality and leaving something of oneself behind even more than the universality of such writing, so the decision to bring back the first dead, a minor figure in his day, to serve as the subject and framing of a heroic parable, functionally immortalizes and lends meaning to Josef's sacrifice across more than a decade of real-world time and half-a-dozen games inbetween. It's a very beautiful moment of using the series's deep-set self-referentiality for emotionally resonant ends rather than for casual perpetuation of symbols and motifs for their ingrained sense of worth gained through familiarity and iteration.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
You know, from all the guest characters in FF II, Josef might have stuck in my mind to strongest. The minimalism of that games storytelling always spoke to me, and focused on what made especially the guests essential. He is a useful member of the team, pulling his weight, and then sacrifices himself in this war against something that will destroy the whole world. I like all the guests from that game, but he might be my personal favourite.

But yeah, I know you didn't talk about me here, but more about people in general. FF IX seems to have a good deal of thought for FF II, in general. That we visit a dungeon with the name Pandemonium comes to mind, of course (I know there are more, but my brain is full of holes). I'm happy that it is clearly still in the minds of the responsible people, if not of fans of the series.

Well, I'll stop my rambing about this point. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

------------------------------------------
I realized that I forgot one picture. Here is the chapel in Cleyra.

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When reaching Lindblum, after Atomos did an insane amount of damage with just one summon, we can witness the follow-up. The business-district isn't accessible at all, the theater district is missing the stairs to the theater, and we can't access that church in the business district. Plus, Alexandrian soldiers are walking around, acting like this is their place, giving orders to the Lindblum soldiers.

This is probably due to this being the first 3D game that really deals with nations at war - in VII, we were long past that point, and in VIII, we never witnessed such destruction, I think it was mainly a thing of occupation. But here, half the city is in ruins. The game world has been, especially visually, significantly changed.

One detail that I found particularly horrifying were the Black Mages, lying everywhere. I guess these are dead ones? It's just...it feels like we see corpses lying around, but in a way that the game can say, that these aren't actually corpses. It felt disturbing.

Artanias soon leads us to Cid, who surrenderd. Sure, his airship fleet is just completely outclassed by these giant creatures. Considering what Odin can do, Lindblum is at least still standing, if not completely. I think it wouldn't be fair to blame Cid, no one could have imagined what an insane amount of power the Eidolons really have, without seeing it.

I think it is at this point, that the party learns about Kuja being Brahnes weapons dealer, the one who offered her the Black Mages. What is certainly new is his origins - that he isn't from the Mist Continent, but from further away, the Outer Continent, unexplored territory. For now, our plan is to defeat Kuja, so he can't give Brahne any more weapons.

While I understand the thought behind this, it seems too little, too late. Brahne not only has Black Mages, but a setup factory, that can mass produce them. Or is that hidden from her? Considering that the airship that brings them to Alexandria, she should be in the know, right? But even if not, she has Eidolons now. She doesn't really need Black Mages anymore.

Anyway, Garnet remembers Freya, Steiner and Beatrix, and that we need to free them. I like that the game reminds us of them, but Zidane is right, they are likely fine. These are three really strong fighters.

We also learn, that the Outer Continent doesn't have Mist, so the airships don't fly their. Except for the new ones, but none is ready at the moment.

We will later see a fleet of Alexandrian ships, regular ones, and I don't quite understand why no one ever came to realize the possibility of exploring the other continents. I mean, ok, one can't be accessed with a ship at all, and the other is just frozen over, but why not explore the Outer Continent? No explorers in this world? Maybe it's a part of the forgotten History of this world.

Lindblums harbor is occupied, too, of course, so we can't go by ship either, in any case. But there is supposed to be something at the Qu Marsh, where strange monsters, not from this continent, appear sometimes. So, of we go.

This is the point, where we have to visit the Qu Marsh, and where we need Quina. I like, that we can get them earlier, just as a bonus for people who explore a bit, instead of going directly to Gizamalukes Grotto. After getting Quina back, we soon find the entrance to the excavation site we are looking for.

Inside, there is a chase sequence, where the weirdest contraption is following us, until it falls into a hole. The thing, as dangerous as it looks, also looks really goofy, with all the moving parts. Immediately after that, we meet Lani, who demands Garnets pendant. She also tells us, that Garnets safe return is not part of her orders.

While trying to steal everything from her, I tried Magic Hammer, and had fun with seeing her lose insane amounts of MP per spell. But I did get her to have no more MP, or at least she didn't lose anymore through the spell, but she could still cast spells. I never tried to reduce another bosses MP to 0, so no idea if bosses actually need MP or not, but it was disappointing. The battle itself was actually somewhat tough, but still relatively easy.

The dungeon seems complicated at first, but is actually pretty straight-forward. And riding Gargantuas is fun, I thought.

Soon, we get outside, and are, indeed, on the Outer Continent, where we don't see any Mist. There are still monsters, so maybe this idea that they are created by Mist isn't really true? Soon, we find Conde Petie, the dwarven village.

51990217036_27ba091283.jpg


I didn't write their names down, but they are pretty great, something like Nancy Fingerwaggler. They also demand a Rally-Ho, to enter, and, despite looking more like goblins or something, they are simply a reference to this race that kind-of died out in the series, with only four or so left, in five. Couldn't make it into the age of steam, I guess, which started in VI.

It's also the first time, that people aren't afraid of him, and even know him, in some way. It doesn't take long for us to meet a Black Mage, selfaware, who does some shopping, but flees when he sees us. The dwarfs tell us from where they come, and we go there.

It's nice, how hidden away they really are. You have to know the clue to get through these magic woods, which is easy if you do, but if not, might be enough to make finding them impossible. And there is the illusion wall, or maybe even barrier. I'm happy for them, that they found this save place for themselves.

But they are afraid of us. Of course, after becoming self aware, they started to fear and hate humans, for using them as puppets, just ordering them around. But we soon get around to them.

It's really a delightful place. The Black Mages don't really understand stuff like "shops", but they want to live like regular people, so they have shops here. Some even care for a Chocobo egg, because they understand the idea of caring for others, even for things. The huts are basically the absolute best, being shaped like happy Black Mage heads, including the hats as roofs.

Maybe the most interesting place is the cemetery, where no music plays, you only hear the wind. And there, the leader (I guess) is standing, explaining things to us. He tells Vivi, that they became, at some point, self aware, a bloody human next to him, and they used the cargo ship to escape. And they found out something deeply scary: At some point, they stop moving. There is another Black Mage here, who doesn't understand it, expecting the buried one to get out of his grave, again. And the leader(?) doesn't seem to quite get the point of burrying dead ones, but he does, because it is what is done.

The ones who were created first, seem to stop moving first, too.

This is a lot of heavy, heavy stuff, and Vivi is basically still a child. Considering how Kuja will, way later, take the fact that he will probably die soon, we see how strong Vivi, and the Black Mages in general, really are. Vivi isn't starting to set everything on fire. He just deals with it. Thinks about it. Gets angry, but at the people who are responsible. But he doesn't just lash out. There is incredible strength inside him.

Also, it felt pretty intense, when the Black Mage leader tells us, that he became aware with a bloody, dead human next to him. I wonder how that must have been. Did they remember? Probably, they hate humans for being used as tools. So, they know that they are responsible for the deaths of these people. But then, most of them don't understand death, that life ends.

During the night, one of these scenes happen that the game does so well. Calm, character focused, no action. Just contemplation, just talk. It's a slow game, and I like it for that. A lot.

Vivi goes for a walk, while Zidane talks to Garnet. Essentially, Vivi finally found a home. The poor guy had no one, when the game started, with his grandpa being dead, everyone looking different than him, and by now, everyone hates him, despite being the kindest soul around. It's beautiful to look at:

51990217346_fe393169df_z.jpg


Look at the right house, isn't it delightful?

Anyway, Vivi is here around people like him, people he can trust. He finally found something, a place, that he can call "home". Sure, he has already found one, with Zidane, Garnet and the others. But still, it surely is nice to know that there is this place, where people like you, who will neither be scared of you, nor try to use you, exist. Something where you are always welcome.

This motivates Zidane, to tell a story. About him, only remembering the place of his birth from dreams, going to look for it. He wanted to find a place, where he belonged, so he left his adopted family, Tantalus, to look for answers. When finding none, he came back. Baku beat him, but also smiled about his son coming back. Which made Zidane realize, that he already had a home, this whole time.

It is still far away, but we will also later explore the family you get asigned to, which doesn't fit you. This is a story about home, and about family, because in the end, both are deeply connected. And that you can find your own family, that blood, or being born together, doesn't have to have anything to do with it.

In the morning, someone saw Kujas Silver Dragon fly to the northwest part of the continent. Garnet suggests, that it's the sanctuary of the Dwarves, the restricted place.

We learn, that one can only go there after getting married. Knowing what's there, I wonder what a couple is even doing there. Does their honeymoon consist of beating up monsters and eating Oglops? Are they looking at the Iifa Tree?

Zidane takes the whole marriage thing way too seriously, and thinks it means anything, while Garnet doesn't at all. I really like, how pragmatic she can be, and that she only does what she has to, to continue on with their journey, showing a lot more maturity here than Zidane. Who doesn't quite get, at least at first, that it is just a thing to do, and has no real meaning.

I did enjoy the short ATE, where Vivi and Quina are getting married, and Quina tells Vivi how happy they are. I love Quina.

Outside, we soon meet Eiko. Back when I played this game the first time, I really disliked her. Part of that is the whole "I totally want to marry this guy who is ten years older than me", simply because I never, ever cared for this trope. But also, she is mean to Vivi here, and generally is annoying. This gets better pretty fast, though, and I think I let this first impression color her too much for me. This time, I enjoyed her more as a character, at least later on.

On the way to her home, Madain Sari, we can let her summon, which creates a similar reaction to the one from Locke and Edgar in FF VI, when they first see Terra summon - a talk in the middle of battle. And if you played the older FFs, you could immediately recognise her as a summoner, due to her horn. We learn, that she is from a tribe of summoners, where everone could summon Eidolons.

But when getting there, it is only a ruin. It's the best ruin, as a bunch of moogles live here with Eiko (we soon learn, that they are fairies, which I found interesting), but her people all died. Due to some natural desaster. Despite these people being really close to nature.

It seems, like we do some nonsense with Garnet being jealous, which I will ignore, as it is just too dumb. This is the scene Lokii mentioned, where Zidane explains to Eiko, that he and Garnet are a team. To quote him:

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.

I think this summarizes this very well, and I pretty much agree with it here (thanks again for the enjoyable post, Lokii). As i continued playing, I started to adore these characters more and more, like I did in my older playthroughs. I think they are exceptionally well done in a lot of ways, and show complexity that the game handles pretty well. There will be more things to complain about (Zidanes behaviour at the start of disc 3 comes to mind, more on that when I get there), but it is clear that they developed into comrades on this journey, and that Garnet is more to Zidane than just the girl he wants to sleep with.

That said, I think you could easily do away with the worst of this stuff, like when he grabs Garnet at the end of Dali, or makes this joke about her getting over her sleeping problems by sleeping with him (sorry, that one really caught me off guard, and I still find it really gross). This stuff feels like pure fanservice, just something for dumb jokes, and could have easily been toned down, without losing anything of value.

While this is going on with Zidane, Garnet and Eiko, Vivi can't stop thinking about learning of his impending death. What does dying even mean? Will he get back to where he came from? He certainly is scared of death.

I don't think I even have anything to say to the questions themselves. They are just too deep and too personal, and also very understandable, considering that Vivi, someone who tends to think about things on a deep level, just learned about his coming death. But this scene, again, shows what kind of game we have here. Again and again, it stops the action to give the characters time to breath and think. We just watch Vivi go through some stuff, with no action of any kind. Just words, food for thought.

This whole game is so strongly focused on characters and setting, with even the story being only second in importance, and things like action or systems being clearly behind that. Compared with the complexity of VIIIs systems, this here is extremely simple. You can still break it, but not as excessively as in VII or VIII. There basically are no multiple attacks per character (aside from dual-casting as Vivi or Eiko, while tranced), so 9999 is the hard damage cap of attacks. But HP totals of bosses are also reduced, I think, and even the last bosses go down fast, with less than 60k HP.

Dungeons, too, seem to be more focused on creating a space that tells a story, that is part of the world, instead of a place to kill or be killed. Most dungeons are short and pretty, interesting in their visual design, and I think there are no sewers to be seen. Even the harder places, like Gizamalukes Grotto, look beautiful and are pretty short, that dungeon has what, six screens?

It's interesting, how this game goes old-school in some ways, partly by simplifying and reducing excess, but also focuses more on storytelling anyway, which is the very opposite of old-school.

We have a scene with Garnet, where she realizes that this place seems familiar to her. She remembers reading about a village of summoners, and thinks about how she misses her Eidolons. Together with Zidane, she soon goes to the Eidolon Wall, where we learn that the summoner tribe honors nature, and called the world Gaia. Considering how they, too, get killed by a source from Outer Space, I can't help but think of the Cetra, from FF VII, even though the circumstances are very different. But then, I guess an ancient society that is destroyed, and leaves stuff behind, is a JRPG thing. And the changed version, where it is a tribe that works with nature, instead of against it, is basically in the fabric of FF, at this point. The summons from FF VI don't seem too dissimilar, too. And IV, VII and VIII have Space as a source of danger - you might even include II here, with monsters that are at least not from this world. In the end, we are just reusing and reinterpreting the FF tropes here.

Which is not a complaint. I just find it interesting, how much these games reinterpret story beats and elements from older games of the same series, as time goes on.

There is also a cute scene, where Eiko and the moogles cook, and then fish Quina out of the water, who helps, too. It's nice, seeing Quina at something they are actually really good at.

While eating, we learn that Eiko is the last of her tribe, with her grandpa dying one year ago. We also learn, that the Iifa Tree, where Zidane assumes Kuja is, is sealed off. By an Eidolon, that the tribe failed to summon. It's custom to seal those away, somewhere.

When reaching the Tree, next morning, we find out that here, we have Mist. And because Zidane, like some of his team members, is quite a bit smarter than the typical JRPG hero, and can easily guess that the tree produces the Mist. Here, Eiko uses her horn to communicate with the Eidolon, and to break the seal. Reminds me of FF Vs Cara.

The dungeon could be obnoxious, considering that we have two healers, whose summons are pretty expensive, but thankfully, with so many undead monsters, they can fight with their healing magic.

When getting deep into the tree, there is a lot of neon green glow, and I immediately get flashbacks to VIIs Mako. Considering that the Iifa Tree is basically technology, that corrupts what is essentially the lifestream of this world, I can't imagine that this isn't intentional.

There is an elevator, that only reacts when Zidane stands on it. Huh, I think the game is foreshadowing something.

At the bottom, we meet a biological machine, stuff out of biopunk nightmares. It explains, that the Mist is just a byproduct of a refining process, used to stimulate the fighting instinct of the people on the Mist Continent. It leads to war, and eventually to the fall of civilization.

Kuja, though, also uses it for the production of Black Mages.

Even Vivi is angry at that thing. As am I, when I remember the reason why this is always the first boss in the game where I die, every time I play. This jerk knows level 5 Death, and it just so happened, probably like the other two times, that most of my characters were level 25. After losing three in one go, I just threw a Pheonix Down, angry at the jerk.

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It's late, so I'll take a break here. Next time: Brahne dies, and maybe Bahamut vs. Alexander? We'll see.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
With the Iifa Tree out of it's operating program, or whatever exactly that jerk was, it stops producing Mist. Vivi, of course, questions himself - did he do the right thing?

This immediately touches on an important subject. Sure, the Black Mages were created as war machines. And despite them being able to get self-aware, they aren't supposed to. Considering that Vivi was a failed prototype, and the the Black Waltzes probably too, I guess the thing that makes the ones that are used now "better", is just the fact that they generally don't get self-aware. Kuja basically created beings, even with self-awareness, but sees this is a bug, not a feature.

I wonder, why not just create machines? Is it not possible, doing so when using magic? I guess the Mist is the problem here, considering it is made up of souls, I got the feeling that it is sort-of a rebirth mechanism. Which also means, that the monsters we fight could have humans before.

Thinking about this really creeps me out, Kuja tries to create living beings as tools, not even allowing them awareness of themselves. It's the ultimate form of slavery, and stinks like the wet dream of big corporations everywhere. Shinra would have been all in on this.

So, Vivis question is, if it was wrong to stop the creation of new Black Mages. I'm leaving this open, I'm not sure I can even really get a grip on an opinion here. The idea of machine manifactured live makes my skin crawl, but I'm honestly not sure if this is just deeply-set bias speaking. If you treat the created people right, I have a hard time finding a real problem with it. There is, of course, the question of "When do we create new ones?", but I feel like I'm getting already too far off topic.

The problem here isn't the creation, it's that the created people are abused as machines, and aren't even allowed any sort of self. The Black Mages in their own village are beautiful creatures, even though they are flawed. Vivi himself is a great person. More of these could exist, and now they won't. I can't find even a trace of an answer here.

Considering what is to come, I'll pick up this topic at a later point, so let's leave it at that, for now.

But soon, a moogle appears, telling Eiko that an important stone, one that she was supposed to protect, was stolen. Getting back, she soon is grabbed by Lani. She wants Vivi to bring Garnets stone to her, too, which is likely to give her an easy chance of killing him. But Amarant appears, frees Eiko and tells Lani to leave. Which she does, and that's pretty much it for her.

I'm never sure what to think of Amarant. Is he even really an assassin? You later learn, that he is on the run, because he is supposed to have something stolen. From the auction house, so I guess that made the sum absurdly high, and Brahne mistook this as a sign of someone really dangerous.

Not to say that he can't fight, or even that he has a problem with killing, it just seems like everyone gets him wrong. Before Zidane set him up, he did honest work as a bodyguard. And I feel like the whole set-up thing isn't that long ago. He probably survived by petty theft and just living of the land - he seems like someone who is able to kill and prepare wildlife.

The game clearly sets him up as a good person, with him explicitely stopping Lanis cowardly way of doing her work. We also never see him commit a crime, so, I don't think he is a bad guy at all. Well, maybe a bit, as he would have likely killed Zidane, but that's more payback. Not to say that that's ok, but I expect him not to harm Vivi, and take the gem from Garnet without hurting her much, if he could.

I remember the fight between him and Zidane being kind of hard, as I had to use many potions, or high potions, all the time. This time, with the right set-up (counter and auto-potion), he wasn't much of a threat. Even though the to abilities cancel each other out, only one of them can happen after an attack. Anyway, the fight was really easy.

The main "crime" Amarant is guilty of, is not to be a people person, and being really bad at social interactions. I mean, the whole "I lost, so kill me" is silly, but the way he grew up, he never knew anything else. This might be a mirror, to how Zidanes life went. Zidane was taken in by Baku, he had a family. An adopted one, but the game makes clear that this doesn't matter. He was loved. Amarant, though, never had anyone. Which didn't even make him into a bad person, just one who doesn't understand how most people interact.

I think it also speaks for him, that this intreagues him so much, that he decides to follow along. Sure, someone who always fought alone and who never had a friend is bound to see other people more as problems, than help. But that he finds something there, speaks for him, I think. Maybe it simply means, that he is longing for some form of family.

Before that, Eiko decides to come with us. She promised her grandfather to stay in the village, and take care of it. Maybe that was meant in a friendly way, but then, she could have easily found help with the dwarfes. They seem like nice people, and I imagine them to be ready to take in an orphaned, little girl. Sure, she has moogles, but that's not the same.

Vivi reminds her of the advice he got from her: Never lie to yourself. It is pretty sweet, and it is clear that Eiko wants to come with us. Of course, she wants other people she can talk to, who are more like her.

As an aside, I think it's here that we learn that Moogles are fairies. Which fits well enough.

Also, Garnet starts singing in a boat, down at a dock. Garnet is still unsure, still thinks she is a failure, that she is just a burden to others. But Zidane explains to her, that people didn't do the things they did just for Garnet, but because they wanted to.

This is an important point. That someone helps you means that they have to give something up, even if it is "only" time. But it doesn't mean, that it is a burden. Like, for Steiner it is his reason for being, he draws joy out of helping Garnet. In other words, helping someone always carries an egoistical component with it, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. It can just mean, that you get a good feeling for doing it. Helping someone you care about can be something joyfull.

She asks why Zidane came with her, and he talks about the well-known adventurer Ipsen, who got plays made after his adventures. It's a little bit of world-building that I really like, just that we learn more about the integral culture of this world. The point of the story is, that the person who came along with Ipsen on an adventure, just came along because he wanted to. It gave his life meaning, he did it for himself, not just for Ipsen.

And then, the first scene of the game gets a bit of context. The song Garnet tends to sing is sung, but not by her. But it triggers the memory, as she is also at the very same place - she remembers being in a boat, right at this place, and seeing an eye in the sky, shooting down at Madain Sari. It is a very powerful image. Like the look of an angry, maybe evil god, smiting some of his subjects.

Back with the others, she talks to Eiko and Zidane about being at Alexandria only since she was six. So, she realizes that she must have been from here. She wants to get back to Tot, to ask him about her biological mother.

You know, I like this. It feels like many other JRPG characters wouldn't immediately get to this conclusion, so Garnet is pretty smart, in terms of this genre.

Eiko welcomes her back. She is really glad, not to be the only one of her people anymore. It's sweet, and at this point, I really like Eiko. The main things I don't care for, are her early ways with Vivi and Garnet, both of which soften a lot pretty soon.

We know that Kuja is at the Iifa Tree, so we go there. It is the first time, that the game gives me more than four party members, so I have to decide who to put in.

I actually really liked, how the game decided for me which party members to use, and I wouldn't have minded, if this had continued, like it did in FF IV. I think I generally prefer to figure out how to use the supplies I have (in this case party members) for very specific situations, instead of having more tools and more options, that I have to weigh.

In this case, I decided to take Amarant and take out Eiko. There is no need for two White Mages. I also thought about using Amarant more often this time, but, spoiler, I didn't. There are just too many characters I like more, just from a story or personality standpoint.

Amarant might not have a well-done character arc (the idea is nice, but I think the execution is pretty lagging, it would have probably worked better if he appeared sooner), but I like the little interactions he has with other characters. The bit, where Zidane thinks about how Eiko and Vivi can climb up the tree, with Amarant just grabbing them, is pretty funny.

Kuja holds more melodramatic monologues for himself, about not having to wear a mask anymore, looking forward to watching the drama and about how only the strong survive. He is also waiting for us, and has some plans to deal with a mysterious other person.

I do like Kuja. I like his melodramatic nonsense, and how he acts like he knows, that he is in a play. But I don't care about how he talks about everything going according to his plans. I simply don't think that's true. I mean, maybe he did intuite that Garnet would come back to Alexandria, after running away at the start, but it seems like luck for him, more than anything? Maybe he is just talking himself into believing, that he is this big mastermind of everything. Would fit his character.

The whole thing here is pretty much set up, so that we believe that we will fight Kuja. Not that this is the end, just that we will get THAT, and even this is just not the case.

We also see Brahne being on her way, in a fleet of regular ships, the greed consuming her completely. She wants to take out Kuja, now that she has all the power she needs, with Bahamut. Here, Kuja tells us that, yeah, he created the Black Mages for her. His goal was simply to create war, chaos, that he doesn't care about dying people.

He also says, that it was Brahne who, in the end, fought the war, not him. Garnet argues, that she was a kind and sweet person, before Kuja showed up.

So, in one of the Discworld novels, a character acts out of character, using her power in destructive, awful ways, due to a creature that works with her mind. Later on, she gets the creature out of her brain, but it is made clear, that it was still always her, who did the awful stuff. She wasn't just controlled, it was all inside her, all the time.

Another character explains to her, that, yes, she (and everyone) has these bad parts in us, like Brahnes greed. It isn't like we should be free of them, that's not possible. It matters, how we deal with them. To keep these awful urges in check.

The scene made me think of that story, because it seems pretty fitting. The greed was always a part of Brahne, but she was good at keeping it in check. Until Kuja appeared. And even then, it might not be that Kuja used any magic on her. As much as I would like to see this as a callback to the brainwashing of FF IV, it doesn't have to be the case. Brahne was grieving, due to the death of her husband, and Kuja might have just hit a nerve. Instead of getting drunk on drugs, Brahne might simply got drunk on power, to forget these painful thoughts of losing her husband. But then, I can't imagine that she goes cold enough to demand Garnets execution, so I'm pretty sure there is magic at play here.

This doesn't excuse what she did, but it is also clear that Kuja is partly to blame, and that he abused someones bad situation.

Kuja flies away on his silver dragon, to meet Brahne. Garnet, in the meantime, is looking for a summon to help her mother. Because, no matter how horrible she behaved, she is still Garnets mother, a person who loved her daughter for many years. And, honestly, Kuja is the worst. But, while there is an Eidolon here, it is the worst possible one: Leviathan. That one might be powerful, but he would only destroy Brahnes fleet.

Still, Brahne has Bahamut. I think the Black Mages on her fleet are not even attacking Kuja with their magic, they just focus to create a giant explosion, so that Brahne can actually summon the King of Dragons. It's a pretty great FMV, seeing it attack Kuja (who is crazy powerful, having only a small cut afterwards), to see Kuja take control of the dragon, the the amazing shot, where Brahne realizes that Bahamut, directly in front of her, will now attack her fleet.

Watching Brahne in these cutscenes is a joy. Her face is so expressive, it's awesome. I really wished there were a few scenes of her playing with Garnet, in better times. That would be lovely.

Kuja, too, gets great shots, of him being so full of glee, like a small child, when he is waiting for Brahne to be attacked. Chilling.

And we see the eye in the sky again, which is always a great visual.

Next, it is over. Vivi narrates, telling us that no one understands, why Bahamut attacked Brahne, but that they found her on the beach, still alive, but dying. There is no music here, like in the cemetery of the Black Mage Village. Death is, at least when it comes to story, taken very seriously in this game.

We probably see Vivi develop right here. He hates Kuja, of course, but he also hated Brahne, for what he did. Which is already surprising, I wasn't sure if he was actually able to hate, and he always shows so much compassion and kindness.

But he learns, that revenge tastes awful. He thinks, that he should be happy, but seeing Garnet cry made clear, that there was no joy to find here. He wanted to cry, too. I guess Vivi learned to understand compassion better, at this point. It is a pretty great scene.

We move over to Brahne, who tells Garnet that she is now finally free from this horrible greed, and that she didn't feel that way, since she saw that play with Garnet and her father. That she realizes now, what horrible things she did, and that Garnet will be a better queen, than her.

These are her last words.

I do appreciate, that the game shows compasion for it's villains. Not that it defends the villains actions - Vivi probably will always hate Brahne, for good reason. In the end, she DID commit these crimes. But there is always connection. And it doesn't hurt, if the person who dies gets a little bit of compassion, if only by not having to die alone.

For Garnet, it is complicated. Sure, Brahne behaved horribly, but she also raised her, and seemingly in a kind way.

We switch to Alexandria, where Garnet, Steiner and Beatrix move to what seems to be a memorial, Brahne grave. Steiner and Beatrix promise Garnet, to help her with her new duties. Tot appears, giving the princess a flower bouquet, to show that the people still love Brahne, despite her late behaviour.

I wonder, how much of Brahnes descend did the regular people of Alexandria even experience. Not much, I'd guess. Her actions were directed against other countries, and if she had been a good queen for years, there was no reason for anyone to think bad of her.

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

That's all for this time.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
Yeah, I really like the last scenes with Brahne. That Garnet, Zidane and Vivi all have different reactions to it, and that her death is afforded a surprising amount of sympathy despite her being the principal villain to this point. Like you said, I think it manages to be compassionate without forgiving her.

Something I really like is that, even though Garnet is scrambling to save the woman who tried to have her killed — and Zidane objects on those grounds — I don't think Garnet comes across as naive or foolish for it. Rather, I think her actions speak to that Brahne was not always this violent and greedy ("erratic", as Beatrix euphemizes), and that she really did have a good and loving relationship with Garnet, once upon a time. Which goes back to how IX sketches out the idea that this world, these people and these relationships are deeper than what we actually see in the game itself.

That's a wrap on the second disc for me, too. If you'll indulge some thoughts at this juncture:

  • Disc 2 is where the game starts to expand its story and raise the stakes beyond Alexandria's warmongering, and frankly, it's a little clumsy. I agree with Felix that the party's plan to cut off Brahne's weapon supply is too little, too late given that she's already destroyed two realms and subjugated the third — she's already won! Similarly, I think that Garnet's line that she was always scared of her eidolons came out of nowhere, since it has never come up in the story before, even in flashbacks. (Actually, with how Garnet previously had Summon as a battle command but all of them cost too much MP to use, I assumed she wasn't even aware of her power. I can't help but think that would have been the more interesting plot development, since it would tie-in nicely with the revelations at Madain Sari. But I digress.) The game is clearly trying to reconfigure itself to account for the bigger scope that awaits it, and while it gets to where it needs to, I do think getting there leaves something to be desired.

  • Though I found Zidane a fairly likeable lead on the first disc, he bored me here. The problem I had is that Zidane just doesn't have any particular connection to the conflict or reason to be involved, beyond that the people he's travelling with are. That's not an inherent problem — RPGs are known for their do-gooder protagonists, and even an uninvolved party can be a helpful viewpoint character — but I think it falls flat here, since Zidane had been established as a flighty rogue; so what I get from him is not that he's doing the right thing, but that he's just going along for the ride. I know things will pick up, so the criticism is kind of moot in the long-term; but it really stood out to me that, at this point in the story, he is by far the least compelling party member (except for Amarant, who has almost no screen time).

  • Otherwise, this disc has some great moments. It opens (more or less) on two intense, action-packed sequences in Cleyra and Alexandra, and closes on the first real encounter with Kuja and Brahne's death. But what really sticks with me is all the quiet stuff in-between. The uncommonly tranquil Condie Petie, its Scottish-inflected inhabitants and their marriage rituals; the poignant Black Mage Village, where Vivi discovers what he is, and also his mortality; the ruined Madain Sari, and how the ruined state of it contrasts with the cheeriness that Eiko and her Moogle companions bring to the place. It's just a wonderful sequence of events.

  • Quina update: Quina really comes into their own here. Mighty Guard was a big help when stalling out Beatrix (even if it never lasts as long as I hope…), Magic Hammer turns Lani into a chump, and White Wind is a lifesaver in the period before Garnet re-joins (and still pretty helpful afterwards, too). I didn't use the Auto-Life/Limit Glove combo that spines mentioned but I can see it'd make short work of everything. Looking forward to getting them back in my party.

  • On the other hand, Vivi really struggles here. -ara spells pack a punch, but they're too expensive to use frequently (especially since, in an odd design choice, Tents don't even restore all MP). So one way or the other, Vivi is going to be spending a lot of time using physicals, and obviously he's not good at those. And that means that Freya's departure marks a huge drop in the party's offensive capability, and it drops further when Quina leaves. Battles on the Outer Continent can really, really drag (but thankfully most of the bosses here can be cheesed). This is something I didn't remember at all, so hopefully this is only a temporary setback for Vivi.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
Something I really like is that, even though Garnet is scrambling to save the woman who tried to have her killed — and Zidane objects on those grounds — I don't think Garnet comes across as naive or foolish for it. Rather, I think her actions speak to that Brahne was not always this violent and greedy ("erratic", as Beatrix euphemizes), and that she really did have a good and loving relationship with Garnet, once upon a time. Which goes back to how IX sketches out the idea that this world, these people and these relationships are deeper than what we actually see in the game itself.
Absolutely, and I'm sure this is a major reason, why I loved this game so much my first time through, and still do. Relationships in the real world are simply more complicated than they are often protrayed in media, especially in video games. Brahne and Garnet have a deep, deep bond, that can withstand a lot of abuse - which isn't necessarily a good thing, and can lead to awful, toxic relationships. But here, with the amount of time passing, Brahnes horrible behaviour for the last year can't erase the love Garnet still has for the woman who raised her, even though she absolutely knows how horrible this behaviour has been for the last year.

I generally think the game does this really will - showing compassion for villains, without absolving them from their guilt. But more on that on another day.

That's a wrap on the second disc for me, too. If you'll indulge some thoughts at this juncture:

  • Disc 2 is where the game starts to expand its story and raise the stakes beyond Alexandria's warmongering, and frankly, it's a little clumsy. I agree with Felix that the party's plan to cut off Brahne's weapon supply is too little, too late given that she's already destroyed two realms and subjugated the third — she's already won! Similarly, I think that Garnet's line that she was always scared of her eidolons came out of nowhere, since it has never come up in the story before, even in flashbacks. (Actually, with how Garnet previously had Summon as a battle command but all of them cost too much MP to use, I assumed she wasn't even aware of her power. I can't help but think that would have been the more interesting plot development, since it would tie-in nicely with the revelations at Madain Sari. But I digress.) The game is clearly trying to reconfigure itself to account for the bigger scope that awaits it, and while it gets to where it needs to, I do think getting there leaves something to be desired.
Yeah, Garnets relation to her summoning power could be explored more in depth in the game. I interpreted the costs with her strong dislike for this power, which makes it all the more costly to use. Also, doesn't this work the same for Rydia? I'm not sure if she has Titan from the get-go, and simply can't use it because of the prohibitive cost, or if she learns it later. But I only get the connection now, Garnet and Rydia are both scared of using their summons. Huh, totally missed that until now.

  • Though I found Zidane a fairly likeable lead on the first disc, he bored me here. The problem I had is that Zidane just doesn't have any particular connection to the conflict or reason to be involved, beyond that the people he's travelling with are. That's not an inherent problem — RPGs are known for their do-gooder protagonists, and even an uninvolved party can be a helpful viewpoint character — but I think it falls flat here, since Zidane had been established as a flighty rogue; so what I get from him is not that he's doing the right thing, but that he's just going along for the ride. I know things will pick up, so the criticism is kind of moot in the long-term; but it really stood out to me that, at this point in the story, he is by far the least compelling party member (except for Amarant, who has almost no screen time).
I mentioned this once, I think, but Zidane really strikes me as someone who is already fully formed. I do appreciate an optimistic lead, but his main storyline is already resolved, with him realising that his home is with Tantalus. So, when compared to the complex issues of Garnet and Vivi, or the deep grieve of Freya, he feels pretty boring. They all struggle and develop, and he is just along for the ride.

I'm reaching here, but it feels a bit like a more developed silent protagonist. Someone who has something to say, but mainly being there as a mirror and focus for the other characters, helping them develop.

  • Quina update: Quina really comes into their own here. Mighty Guard was a big help when stalling out Beatrix (even if it never lasts as long as I hope…), Magic Hammer turns Lani into a chump, and White Wind is a lifesaver in the period before Garnet re-joins (and still pretty helpful afterwards, too). I didn't use the Auto-Life/Limit Glove combo that spines mentioned but I can see it'd make short work of everything. Looking forward to getting them back in my party.
I'm very happy to read this. It's my first time really using Quina, too, and they are a lot of fun. White Wind is, indeed, a great spell for healing, and even without the really broken stuff, they can do useful stuff in the party. Never bothered with Mighty Guard, or buffs in general, as they stop working way too quickly, but I always found uses for her. If nothing else, than just as a white mage, as I simply avoided using Garnet and Eiko when possible. Wanted to see how this works. It totally does, and the game is easy enough not to require either of them. You're still making life harder for yourself, of course, but it is very douable.

  • On the other hand, Vivi really struggles here. -ara spells pack a punch, but they're too expensive to use frequently (especially since, in an odd design choice, Tents don't even restore all MP). So one way or the other, Vivi is going to be spending a lot of time using physicals, and obviously he's not good at those. And that means that Freya's departure marks a huge drop in the party's offensive capability, and it drops further when Quina leaves. Battles on the Outer Continent can really, really drag (but thankfully most of the bosses here can be cheesed). This is something I didn't remember at all, so hopefully this is only a temporary setback for Vivi.
Do you have something like 30 Ethers, like I did? I decided to just use them - still struggled with this a bit, but in general, I just threw -agas around, and gave Vivi an Ether when needed, and he was a big help. I mainly remember the sand golems, while climbing up to Cleyra, and instead of having these obnoxious fights, I just cast Blizzara on the gem, and the died immediately. Never ran out of Ethers either, there were more than enough. So, if you continue to use Vivi, just feed them to him. You can always bench him later, if you are out of Ethers.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
I mentioned this once, I think, but Zidane really strikes me as someone who is already fully formed. I do appreciate an optimistic lead, but his main storyline is already resolved, with him realising that his home is with Tantalus. So, when compared to the complex issues of Garnet and Vivi, or the deep grieve of Freya, he feels pretty boring. They all struggle and develop, and he is just along for the ride.
I agree with this, but I still think there's space to make Zidane an important and engaging character within those confines. A comparison that's been in my mind since I started playing is Yuri from Tales of Vesperia. Like Zidane, he's a guy who comes across as fully-formed — that his big character development already happened before the game started — so the role he takes in party is spurring on the others' development: encouraging characters to believe in themselves, to be more honest with and kinder to others, supporting their bold ideas, and so on. Zidane does take on a similar role at the start of the game, but it drops off fast enough that it doesn't really come up on the second disc much at all. I think that's a missed opportunity. Though, I know that Zidane's characterization shifts a bit in the late game, and digs into his insecurities — and you can see that shift happening a bit here. So maybe this is another instance of the game reconfiguring itself for its endgame, and being awkward about it.

Do you have something like 30 Ethers, like I did? I decided to just use them - still struggled with this a bit, but in general, I just threw -agas around, and gave Vivi an Ether when needed, and he was a big help. I mainly remember the sand golems, while climbing up to Cleyra, and instead of having these obnoxious fights, I just cast Blizzara on the gem, and the died immediately. Never ran out of Ethers either, there were more than enough. So, if you continue to use Vivi, just feed them to him. You can always bench him later, if you are out of Ethers.
That's … probably a good idea. I don't think I've used a single ether yet; I must have dozens by now.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
We start disc 3 in an interesting state. Instead of keeping up the action, the game takes a complete break, and focuses on something that has nothing to do with Kuja - the way Garnets new position changes her relationship to the party, and we give everyone a breather, to just hang out in Alexandria and have some fun.

I always found this fascinating. Even now, I think it is extremely rare, that the player characters take a break from the main story, ignoring the looming thread (partly because they don't even really know that there is one - it makes sense to assume that Kuja will continue being an awful person, but up to now, Brahne was the villain of the story, and this part is now over).

It's all part of making this world make more lived in. There is something very important going on, but people still have a life outside of the main plot, and we witness something of that here. I really like it.

We start with Zidane, being in a bad mood, because he assumes that Garnet will now have no time for him anymore, and that, as the new queen, she isn't available to him anymore, as a love interest. I do have a very small bit of sympathy for Zidane, because it can be hard to let go of friends, who simply have way more stuff to deal with now. But mainly, it shows him as very self-centered (and the focus is clearly on the "now I can't have her as a girlfriend", which is simply a bad light on him). Garnet lost her mother, and has to take on heavy duties now, for which she isn't prepared yet. No matter how much she has learned at this age, it can't be enough to rule a kingdom. And it is her, who has to give up a live of freedom, especially after travelling the world over the last few weeks(?). Instead of sulking, Zidane should show her support, and be there for her.

But the game seems pretty clear here, as no one really cares for Zidanes state, and just carries on. Tantalus is happy for Ruby, that her mini-theater is a success, and they leave Zidane to mope around on his own. Outside the pub, they meet Vivi, and we find out that it's them, who saved Steiner, Beatrix and Freya, after they were exhausted after the fighting in the castle.

I honestly forgot, how much Tantalus does in the background, and how essential they are to the worldbuilding here. I forgot, that you team up with Marcus, when going back to Alexandria, and that you simply interact with them, again and again. Really nice, adds just more flavour to the world.

This whole bit mirrors the start of the game a bit, where we begin with Zidane and Tantalus, and then switch to Vivi, to explore the city. I don't think there is more to it, though.

Exploring lets us race Hippaul, which I did for a few times and stopped, when I realized what an insane timesink it would be. I kind of love, how this is in the game, letting you do this racing minigame with not much to show for it, just in case you want to have fun with it. I'll write more on that later, but I do enjoy the absurd amount of sidequests in this game a lot. I know, the idea was probably to have some silly key item that you might need a guide for, or something, but you get nothing of importance here, at all, so I don't really mind.

We also meet Artemicion, the postman moogle, who is, of course, adorable, and has his very own, unique design. We learn, that there is something going really wrong with his work, which is the reason for why we are delivering mail all the time. It's delightful, as moogles tend to be in this game.

We get a bit more on Blank and Ruby, and then switch inside the castle, to Garnet. Who talks about wanting to speak with Zidaen to Steiner, but simply has no time now. No wonder, there are probably tons of things she has to do. I'm sure Tot is a big help, probably knowing a lot about traditions and the work of the gone king and queen. He also takes this opportunity, to give the gems back to Garnet, that were forcefully extracted from her.

The game doesn't make much of it, but it has to be a pretty harsh reminder of what happened. Not to critizice Tot, he had to give them back to her, just saying that this must be another thing that, while surely important to Garnet (I imagine the Stones feel like a part of her), also pains her with the awful memory.

Tot meets Eiko, who is thrilled to find a summoner (knowing she is one, due to the horn). Here, we learn a harsh truth about Garnets past. While I'm sure that the king and queen of Alexandria would have taken Garnet it, I assume if there hadn't been the tragedy of them losing a child that looked exactly like her, they wouldn't have raised her as their child. I can't help but feel chills, when I think about how she is a replacement for their biological daughter.

Which is then even furthered, when we learn that they removed Garnets horn, under horrible pain for the girl.

It does paint these two in a new light. We actually don't know anything about the king, the one who demands the horn to be removed. Was he, maybe, not the good man that I assume he was? He probably was a good husband and king, as Brahne clearly misses him much, but I think Garnet never really mentions him, without refering about how her mother changed after his death. Not saying that they needed to have a bad relationship, but maybe it was Brahne, who wanted to take Garnet in, and the king demanded this horrible surgery?

I'm sure the queer context, of removing a part of the body of a small child, just so she can fit into the role society demands her to take, is probably not lost on anyone here. But just this bit alone paints a very grim light on how Garnet was taken in - not as herself, but as someone to fill the role of someone else. Maybe this left a trauma, to make her not use her summoning magic, or something? The game doesn't expand on that, so I'm leaving that here as a thought. But considering that she didn't even know, that she wasn't the Brahnes biological daughter (while figuring it out on her own, which makes her one of the smartest people in the JRPG genre), no one even told her. Her foster parents basically erased her identity, or at least an important part of it.

I'm spending so much time on this, because, aside form it being important, it is such a brutal piece of knowledge, coming out of left field. The game establishes, that Garnet loves her parents, especially her mother. That this happens, with us only getting a few lines on it, is pretty intense.

Speaking well for Beatrix and Steiner, they don't care about this. Their loyalty lies with the new queen.

I haven't read much Shakespeare, but the bit with the letter seems very much like a reference to his work, with different people assuming that someone else wrote a love letter for them. It is a funny bit. That said, I don't care for the romance between Steiner and Beatrix a single bit - it is nice, that she has now found respect for him, though. Which might be part of why I don't like the romance, it undermines this very point. Steiner showed loyalty to the princess, capabilities as a fighter and companion in battle and just being someone you can count on. He accomplished that, by showing off these traits. Implying that there are romantic feelings between these two implies, that part of the reason why she changed her mind is due to these feelings.

Also, it feels like the game does this, because they are a man and a woman, and this stuff just happens.

We get an interesting scene, were Freya and Amarant meet for the first time, and immediately decide to fight. I kind of love this, especially with how these two will develop a friendship and respect over the course of the rest of the game. No surprise, these two have a lot in common, both being focused on being a strong, solitairy fighters.

Freya, at least, thinks clearly about them being not at all done with the crisis at hand. She actually is pretty angry at Zidane, for just moping around, instead of thinking of ways to deal with Kuja, who is still out there, doing things. Giving her this role seems really fitting - she is someone who travels alone and has taken care of herself for a long time, she has to think about stuff like this. And, again, it shows someone thinking ahead. I like, how these characters are shown to have the capabilities of adding some things together by themselves. Which is pretty sad, but there it is.

There is a meetup scene at the castle, where Zidane acts like a grumpy three-year old. Eiko actually acts more adult then him, simply telling Garnet that she is scared, that they won't see each other anymore. Garnet tells her, that it isn't so, and exchanges some of their gems, which strikes me as a strong bonding ritual, considering what these stones meet for them.

With not much to do, Tot asks a few of the group to visit him in Treno, as he wants to learn more about Madain Sari. Specifically, he asks Eiko, but a few of the others are tagging along, as there is a card tournament held there.

More on Tetra Master later, let me just mention that I generally enjoy it more than Triple Triad, just playing it. I actually like, that you don't get anything from it, and that it is just there as a "pointless" passtime, in case you have fun with it. That said, a few such tournaments, or something like the card club in VIII, a little side-quest, would have been a nice touch.

While being here, I decide to visit Vivis home, which an NPC tells us is close by. There is a hot spring in there, a reference to the old FFs, healing us completely. There is a memory of his grandpa, fishing Vivi out of the water, and now I wonder how he even got there. Was he thrown away? Was he the prototype of the Black Waltzes? Did he wander off?

Quan, Vivis grandpa, is portrayed as a wise weirdo, and I can't help but find it funny, that the main motivation to raise Vivi was to eat him, when he grows up. It's so bizarre.

I also used this time to get back to Dali, using the very small time window of getting the stuff from the windmill. The visit is actually quite sad, as the villagers did sacrifice their farm to produce Black Mages, and now both forms of income are unavailable. The innkeeper became a drunk, realizing that the opportunity he passed up ran out, as soon as he tried to use it. Even the lady who cared for the pumpkins feels down, with everyone here being so frustrated with the situation.

Once more, I get FF VII vibes, with great, new technology being brought to a town, promising wealth and a good life, only for that technology not being as shiny as it seems, and now everyone being in shock. It's not as harsh, they can always restart the farm, but the core of the idea is still the same.

When reading Animal Farm last year, I realized that dystopias are a lot about broken promises and destroyed dreams, a core of FF VIIs world. This here is a smaller version of that.

While Zidane participates in the card tournament, Freya found out that the ownere of the auction house is Kuja. I'm surprised, that they not only call Kuja an arms dealer, but also show how he acquired the wealth he probably needed, to start production. It's just nice to have a bit of details of the villain, that are a bit closer to home than normally.

Amarant also tells Freya there, that he had a job as a guard here, but was framed by Zidane, who stole some valuable treasure. Which lead to Amarant being made into a criminal. So, yeah, I stay with it, Zidane basically ruined Amarants live, and Amarant was a working part of society.

Freya, though, just finds the whole thing funny and she laughs at Amarant, for falling for such a childish trick. It is probably the only time in the game, where Freya has some fun, and enjoys herself, which already speaks for the relationship between her and Amarant.

Amarant might not have a great character arc, but his relationship with Freya and Zidane are pretty great. They are just side-stuff, that you can easily miss.

Zidane meets Cid again, in the finale of the tournament. We learn, that the Hildaguard 2 is ready, but we can't go there yet. Alexandria is attacked.

We switch back there, where Kuja talks about wanting to unleash Bahamut onto the city. Monsters are already roaming the streets, and we, as Steiner, have to decide which soldiers take on which task. I read an LP on the side, and only through that did I learn that you have to find the guards at the very start of the game, and write down their character traits, so you can send the ideal ones. The puzzle itself is nice, that you get traits for these soldiers, and have to decide on these traits who is best suited for which task. But the way you get the information for this is silly. That said, the rewards are not essential, so it's fine as an easter egg or something, for future playthroughs.

We, once more, have Beatrix and Steiner fight together, this time in the same party. I still remember my first time, and that I was a bit disappointed, as Steiner was basically as strong as Beatrix, who seemed up to now, like she was a goddess of destruction, or something. I really think the game should have given her way more MP, so that you can spam her powerful moves.

But then, the game shows her here, that she isn't as powerful as she thought. It's just additional stuff, that kills her moral, and furthers her character arc.

Garnet, in the meantime, is called by Alexander, to go to a specific part of the castle. It is power that nearly overwhelmes her, and she doesn't know how to use it, on her own, but I really like how this isn't necessarily a one-sided relationship, between summon and summoner. If you are a good "master", they will help you, in times of need.

Garnet asks for the help of her mother, and of Zidane, but realizes that it is on her to deal with this crisis. She is the queen now, she can't count on other peoples help, at least not in the sense that someone else will take charge.

The others get closer on the airship, and Eiko, being called, jumps down, directly to Garnet. Together, they summon Alexander. I know, it is not his first appearance as a summon, but it is pretty cool that they use the Giant of Babil (that was his name, right?) of FF IV as a summon that is strong enough to rival, and even defeat, Bahamut. Also, having parts of the castle transform is really awesome, even though it is still confusing me. Could Alexander be also summoned out of a mountain? How does he work?

Anyway, a great FMV follows, where Alexander destroys Bahamut, who flees from something, probably the first time we see the great dragon not dominating something - but then, most times only lower-level summons participate in a story like that.

Kuja, though, doesn't care, and simply wants to get Alexander the same way he got Bahamut. Honestly, the eye in the sky is a pretty awesome mechanic, but the way it is basically a deus-ex-machina, that the villain can summon at will, and that dominates everything, rubbed me the wrong way. It's like, I know that Kuja wants the people to fight amongst themselves, but couldn't he just kill everyone with this absurd power, to increase the speed of the soul exchange, or something? I just don't like that, no matter what you throw at Kuja, without Garlands intervention, he would simply be unstoppable.

Anyway, we learn here that the eye is actually just a part of an airship, the Invincible (FF III reference, of course). And inside, a stranger for now, thinks Kuja is going too far now. He thinks, that Kuja has lost sight of his mission, and decides to punish him and Zidane.

I will think more about this later, when we get to Terra, but for now, I'm not sure how Garland comes to this conclusion, and what his problems with Kuja are. But that's for later, maybe it gets clearer.

With Zidane and the others, we get inside the castle to look for Garnet. But first, I fight the side-boss, a magic book that is clearly a reference to the once you fight in V. It even has the shield of one of the monsters inside on the cover.

It's probably the toughest boss in the game, aside from the other super-bosses, which is fitting, considering you don't have to fight him. Don't remember what I got, but I certainly wanted it. Maybe shoes that give auto-haste? Which is supergood, in this game.

While getting up, Garland actually interferce, but not as Kuja intended. The Invincible simply hurts Alexander, turning it's wings from white to black. The castle, and the whole city, get heavily damaged in the process, the attack is enormous.

So, I guess the only city that never experiences destruction, is Treno (at least on the Continent of Mist). Which fits, considering Jidoor in VI also never seemed to suffer much from the end of the world. Also, rich people live there, so why would they suffer like "normal" people.

Garland does some foreshadowing, about souls getting sucked away from Gaia and Kuja not having many days left. Cryptic at the moment.

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

That's it for today. Next time: Trying and failing to attack Kuja, and learning some deep backstory.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
Out of curiosity, are there still people left, who read my reports? I know that conchobar does, and I will continue writing them, it's not about pushing people to comment. I'd just like to know.
 

RT-55J

definitely not a robot
(He/Him + RT/artee)
I've only been lightly skimming these reports, but that's mostly because I haven't played or otherwise experienced FF9 to a meaningful degree.
 

Torzelbaum

????? LV 13 HP 292/ 292
(he, him, his)
Out of curiosity, are there still people left, who read my reports? I know that conchobar does, and I will continue writing them, it's not about pushing people to comment. I'd just like to know.
I'm still following along.
 

Lokii

Administrator
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
Out of curiosity, are there still people left, who read my reports? I know that conchobar does, and I will continue writing them, it's not about pushing people to comment. I'd just like to know.

I'm still reading! My own play-along has fallen by the wayside atm tho (eldin ring ><). I've also found this game exceptionally hard to write about in a way that isn't overbearing or tedious, but I'm very much enjoying reading your posts and impressions.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
I burned out for a while as far as in-depth participation partway through VIII (which I did finish, regardless), but I'm checking in periodically and chiming in if a topic comes to mind or if there's something I want to respond to.
 
I'm a little bit behind because I've been playing through disc 2 slowly and reading your posts as I get to the parts they cover. I'm just about to enter the Iifa Tree now.

Two little notes: the black mages running away in terror when the party first arrives at their village immediately reminded me of the Cleyrans' reaction to the black mages under Brahne's control; and Hilgigars, the otherwise forgettable boss of the Conde Petie mountain pass, has a notorious rare steal of a Fairy Flute with a 1/256 chance of success, and I was really lucky and got it in just a few tries.
 

Lokii

Administrator
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
Lucky you. I gave it a good dozen tries and decided life is too short.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
Thanks for letting me know, everyone. It's just more fun, if I know that someone is actually reading the stuff I write.

Two little notes: the black mages running away in terror when the party first arrives at their village immediately reminded me of the Cleyrans' reaction to the black mages under Brahne's control;
Oh, nice catch.

and Hilgigars, the otherwise forgettable boss of the Conde Petie mountain pass, has a notorious rare steal of a Fairy Flute with a 1/256 chance of success, and I was really lucky and got it in just a few tries.
Wow, yeah, I tried for a few rounds and gave up. I mean, I could have taken my time, if I remember right, Garnet and Eiko together were more than enough healing power, but after an eternity, I got too bored.

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

So, last time, Alexandria got somewhat demolished. We switch to the next day, in Lindblum, where we see reconstruction happening. Cid calls for Zidane, but his first thought is for Garnet - he learns from Blank that she is at the telescope, again.

There is probably something to be said, about meeting her up there again, like we did the last time we were here. Doesn't come to me, though. Maybe the lack of song is supposed to key us into the situation, Garnet is in.

As a bit of comic relief, we see an ATE of Quina, who drifted to Lindblum. I really adore this weirdo. Doesn't care, just can't die, attacks enemies with a giant fork - Quina is awesome.

I didn't write down what Zidane talked about, on the roof, so I guess it wasn't much of importance? He certainly doesn't get what happened - that it isn't, that Garnet doesn't want to talk. She can't. So, assuming she wants to be alone, he leaves and meets everyone else in the conference room. Eiko, though, doesn't care, and wants to get Garnet.

This time, I really like Eiko, at least when it comes to her relationship with Garnet. They share a very special bond, and I think the game does a very good job of showing how their relationship slowly develops. They start to develop into sisters, especially after they bonded over summoning Alexander. I didn't even think of that, but, considering how much summoning is an integral part of who a summoner IS, summoning an Eidolon together has to be some of the closest things for two of them to share. Like, I assume their souls need to be connected, or something like that.

I love how the game does not only develop its characters on their own, but also in connection with other characters, pairing them of in different ways. It is always a danger with groups in any kind of media, to only show them in relation to the main character, or as a member of the whole group. But here, the character work is so strong, that we even get these little sub-groups. The game basically lamplights this later, when it pairs of Vivi and Steiner, Garnet and Eiko as well as Freya and Amarant.

Anyway, Garnet is full of self-doubt. Probably not surprising, she tried to help, being full of somewhat naive self-confidence, and everything spiralled out of control. That wasn't her fault, it's not like she could have prevented any of the things that happened. But it's easy to see, how she gets the impression, and with all the things that happened, assuming that everything will just get worse, isn't surprisng either.

Steiner mentions, that he has no idea where Beatrix is. This last night had to be traumatic for him too, but the lack of introspection is really helping him here. He will help as much as he can. The game also mentions the survivors of the attack, and how they will have a hard time. It's important to mention this - in most games, the plight of the people, who suffer due to the wars happening, is mainly ignored. But with the big cities in this game visible demolished, we clearly see the negative consequences for everyone. I think it really does a good job of showing the horrors of war, at least compared to how JRPGs can be about these things.

But there are two furthe bad messages - Kuja has been seen, flying away with the Hildagard I, implying that he has something to do with Hilda not having come back. And there were Black Mages on board. Talking ones. Which was as incredible to me, as it was to Vivi, in the first moment.

Speaking of the huge jerk, we switch to him, and see Black Mages there, indeed. That he doesn't care about their names should tell you all you need to know - he still sees them as nothing but tools. He also has a short moment of clear sight, understanding that Garland nearly killed him. But then, he gets overconfident again, and starts to talk about how the wheels are already in motion. I guess, he is expecting us?

Back in Lindblum, Eiko comes back into the conference room. And instead of Zidane, who didn't think of actually really seeing Garnet, she understood - Garnet has lost her voice. Tot suggests, that this might be due to the trauma, and that, while it is supposed to be only temporary, there is no way of knowing how long it will last.

In other words, there is no quest or magic item that will help us. Garnet has to deal with this on her own.

So, the plan is to attack Kuja, which is the only way forward, with him being a danger to everyone. Kind of like Kefka in the WoR, when he could do horrible things whenever he pleased, and we had to get rid of him, before actually starting to rebuild.

To do that, we need a new airship, which leads to a semi-adventure game like puzzle, where we have to collect three potions in Lindblum. It basically gives you an excuse to explore the city once more, and we meet the Burmecian couple, whose husband we saved from the crumbling statue. It's good to know, that they are save here, but we also learn that many died, on the road - even here, we get a bit of bitterness. Learning this bit shouldn't be surprising, but it still got me a bit. But Zidane gets to know the kids of the couple, which gives the thing a sweet touch.

With the potions collected, we try it on Cid, and he turns into a frog. It's a fun sidequest, and a much needed bit of levity.

So, with Cid still not a human, he is incapable of building an airship, and suggests to use the Blue Narciss. Vivi, really having develop a sense of being and place, is still angry about the Black Mages with Kuja. So he suggests to start looking at the Black Mage Village, which is a sensible idea.

Cid, for reasons I'm very unclear about, comes along, too. I mean, I understand why we need him from a gameplay perspective, but there is no reason to assume that he would be of any help, in his state. Oh, well.

And with that, we have our ship, and can travel freely to the other continents. Well, more or less.

More importantly, though, we can finally find the Chocobo Lagoon, and continue with Chocobo Hot'n'Cold. I really find it a bit frustrating, that you can start this sidequest, but then having to wait for Disc 3 to continue with it, after having found the first few chocographs in the forest. So, I spent a lot of time there, not realizing that the game prevented me from getting a golden Chocobo now, as that would result in a bug, skipping part of the game and leaving Garnet forever unable to move past her trauma. But I get what I can, for now.

The Chocobo village is nearly empty, aside from No. 288, who is still at the graveyard, and the two who care for the chocobo egg. We do learn, that Kuja promised the Black Mages to increase their livespan. Vivi, once more, gets angry. It's such an obvious lie, it's clear to him that Kuja just wants to use them.

Think of, why does he even need them? He needs someone without magic powers to do his work, and he generally uses us for his dirty work, so, why? But I wouldn't put it past this jerk to like having people to order around, just for the fun of it.

There is a lot going on here, though. The Black Mages know that they can die, and they are deeply scared of it. Very understandable. So they jump onto the chance of getting more out of live, basically selling their souls. They would rather give their decent live up and work for someone they probably know to be awful, just for the chance of being able to serve him longer. Considering how much they hated humans, for ordering them around, death has to be incredibly scary to them.

And yet, there are two who have OTHER live to take care of. So, they clearly value something more than their own lives. Basically, the baby chocobo is coded as their child, that they protect with their lives.

And then there is No. 288, who always seemed to be the most advanced of them all. I don't think, that he just stayed behind for the chocobo. He didn't want to go, as he felt he would leave something important behind. I guess he is simply talking about freedom, that there is more to live than just the fear of death. And that you can't give up everything, just so you can live forever - a lesson that the series likes to teach, again and again. It's one of the main reasons, why the antagonists are the way they are.

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg. I guess you could write a short paper on Vivi and the Black Mages. There is a lot to explore there.

We get a very cute scene, seeing the newly born baby chocobo, who is super adorable. The Black Mages are very proud of him, hoping to show it to the others.

When leaving the village, we learn that Vivi will live longer than the others, according to Kuja. And we hear about how Vivi learned about death, when his grandpa died. Quan told him not to be sad, so he wasn't. Only when seeing Brahne die, and Garnet being sad, did he understand what death means to the ones who stay behind.

And that's how Vivi knows that he isn't just a puppet, as No. 288 had suspected - just there to do the bidding of humans. A deeply absurd thought, as soon as you give live and consciousness to a creature, it isn't there for you, to be used as a tool.

Also, it is Kuja who created them, and to Kuja, it doesn't matter how anyone is created. Vivi actually screams, that he hates Kuja, for turning people into puppets, just to kill other people. That everyone is a puppet to Kuja.

It was here, that it hit me how much this game is about freedom of being, and being used by others. That everyone here is used as a puppet at one point, and about how it is important to break free of this abuse. But it doesn't matter if you were artificially created or born. If you have consiousness, you have rights, or should have. If someone doesn't mind taking away the rights of people he created, than he also has no problem with making "regular" people into puppets. Take the rights of one being away, and you take away the rights of everyone. Rights are universal. And so on.

I recently listened to the Mission Log podcast episode of Next Generations "The Drumhead" (which is an outstanding episode). I can't help being reminded of that, as it deals with the idea that, no matter how dangerous the situation, if you take the rights of one single person away, you can take it away from everyone. Here, I thought about this quote:

With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.

It's not quite fitting, but works well enough. The idea is the same.

Also, with this game being a play on, well, a play, there are even more layers to it. Everyone is a puppet, in that sense, after all. Kuja likes to act, like life is a play, and he uses people so that it turns out the way he wants. Which is, of course, the worst, and way too true to live to not send at least some shivers down my spine.

Getting back to the game, No. 288 seems to get it, and tells us about Kujas secret palace. But, as expected, Kuja was waiting for us, and put everyone into a cell. Zidane and Cid end up in the same, because Kuja didn't realize Cid was even here. He "motivates" Zidane, by showing him that the floors of the cells can be opened, leading to doom. While Zidane accepts to help Kuja, Cid is tasked with freeing the others.

So, Kuja needs something from a place called Oeilvert, on the Forgotten Continent. It has an anti-magic field, so neither Kuja nor the Black Mages can do anything here. He wants the Gulug stone from there, a name that I still remember from FF I.

We can choose a team - taking Steiner, Freya and Amarant is a no-brainer. That said, it might have been sensible to leave one physical attacker aside from Quina for the other team. Oh, well.

With that, this team gets onto the Hildagard I, getting to Oeilvert. Zidane tries to talk to the Black Mages, steering the ship, but Zorn and Thorn tell him, that they only listen to them. They still remember the bad memory of the third Black Waltz, who had a stronger ego, and didn't always do as they were told.

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

It's late, so I'll end it here. Next time: Worldbuilding.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
Last time, we got to Oeilvert, the resting place of the Gulug Stone, and also the one place where Kuja can't enter, as magic doesn't work there. It is a fascinating place, but also a frustrating one, considering your restrictions. But then, I don't remember having much trouble inside the place, and physical fighters are pretty strong in this game, so, not much of a problem.

The main monsters that stood out to me, where the stone guys, who can die by throwing a soft at them, with the sentence "too soft to live", or something. Something about this sentence weirds me out. Oh, and there were these monsters that transformed into a party member. I made them a priority, after one of my characters died instantly, after the jerk transformed into whoever it was. Rude.

Right, I just remembered that these are the same monsters. I also wrote down, that something about this, copying characters as a defence mechanism, seems thematically resonant, but I didn't get any further with this thought than that.

But I really like this place. It looks interesting, and you get some fascinating lore. One room contains information about different airships (about how the technology developed), and one about the History of Terra.

52073245549_e245637d8a_z.jpg


Even with it being not that easy to see, this looks very much like a reference to Midgar, to me - a technological, dark city, full of artificial light, with a giant tower in the middle. And a story about decline, due to technology.

"Beginning...of the city..."
"At first...the city...flourished..."
"Soon...began the decline..."
"At its peak...cities...all over...Terra...then...the decline...begin..."

Sure, the last sentence makes clear that technological progress continued to spread. But you could easily imagine that, without Sephiroth and our heroes, Shinra would have continued to grow, and to put reactors everywhere, creating more and more centers of population. And yeah, Midgar flourished too, if you looked the other way. A museum, like Oeilvert is, can be easily assumed to only show the positive sides of their perceived high-point, which is actually also the reason for the downfall. Like, the decline didn't begin here, it was a bug that was included from the very start.

And, considering that Terra is hungry for souls, for something that creepily resembles the Lifestream from VII, it doesn't seem too far-fetched for me, to imagine the population of VIIs world looking for other places with more lifestream, to keep their technology alive. Just so they wouldn't die, no matter the costs for others.

Maybe that is a too mean read (I don't think so, but I'm open for the possibility) - essentially, this is a classical sci-fi story, of a highly developed society that ruined their planet, creating a Utopia that lead to a decline, because the price was too high. But still, with the backstory of IX, how it draws from the older games, and how similar the hologram makes the city look to Midgar, I imagine this is not a coincidence.

By the way, we get some further information about Zidane having something to do with Terra - he can read the language on the screen, without any idea why.

Soon, we enter the creepy room of creepy stone faces.

52073019951_9c61e566af_z.jpg


And here, more information about Terras past. The faces are highly developed machines, using telepathy to speak to everyone. It's more information about the fall of these people.

The seeds' decline was not our fault...
All vegetation and...vessels...died out...
The decay of our Terra...triggered it all...
In order to stop the decay, many methods were considered...
Ultimately, the best minds of Terra's civilization gathered...
Then, a final resuscitation was attempted on the mother continent...
Unfortunately, it ended in failure...
It was later discovered to have been the catalyst...Subjects were selected...
After four tremendous sacrifices, eternal prosperity seemed within reach...
Flora and fauna were revived, but...is still in stasis.
Final results...are still pending...
In order that our glorious history not die with us, we were constructed...


I'm not sure what the "seeds" are, but there certainly has been a big catastrophe of some kind, making Terra into a soon-dying world. As I understand it, people put themselves into stasis, after developing things like this museum and Garland, to make the world into one where Terrans can live again.

Some of these lines are still a puzzle to me. The four tremendous sacrifices might have to do with the four elemental guardians, the selected subjects. Huh.

Well, the party doesn't get much out of this, and decide to carry on. They aren't here to learn about ancient civilizations, but to save their friends.

Still, we have one more room, and it shows us how two worlds are merging. Which is kind-of but-not-really a reference to the way the two worlds in FF V were merged into one. Except that it always was one, of course, before being split apart, but, details.

The boss fight against Arc was easy, according to my notes. I got all three steals pretty easily, and a Steiner in Trance status, which is basically a truck that you can throw at an enemy.

And with that, the Gulug stones taken, we switch to the captive part of our group.

Kuja being the jerk that he is, set a time limit for Zidane to come back - I guess he really likes to see people suffer, and play "last chance" games with his victims. They would easily die, if we hadn't Cid with us, who has to play a minigame to unlock the cells. It's a neat idea, but the execution was really annoying - my reflexes were just way too bad, and I got scared away way too often. The puzzle with the weights was incredibly trivial. Shrug.

Cid also overhears two Black Mages, talking about how they find the things they are doing here questionable, but also that it seems better for them, than to die.

Is it fair to criticize them? They are still new to the world, and the concept of death must have scared them horribly, when they learned about it. But still, they basically made a deal with the devil, doing things that they clearly know to be absolutely wrong. Dunno, I don't want to judge them here too harshly, but still - I have a hard time of thinking of them as just victims here. Like, I fill like they should know better, by now, and not just following every simple promise for prolonged life.

But then, trying to extend your lifespan over the natural amount is so, so often the basis for the villain of the series to do attrocious acts. The more I think about it, the more it seems to me like, below all the flavour and differences of the main FF games, this is the core of them all - that you have to accept your death, or you will become a monster.

I'll get back to that, whenever i'm done with the whole project.

Anyway, the Black Mages also give a tip for the next dungeon, to "turn them all on". I only remember this dungeon from my earlier playthroughs, because I had no fighters here and never wanted to use magic, to conserve MP. It wasn't much of a problem here, as this time, I just used Ethers, and destroyed everything. By the way, the short versions of the summons are really, really fast here. I mean, people tend to complain about the amount of time summons take in the 3D games, but they are really short here (at least the short versions, as I said). Not any longer than a black magic spell.

I probably didn't get the hint the other times, and have no idea if I got the stuff from the statues. Thankfully, the puzzles, weird as they are, are not particularly hard. I also don't remember having any trouble with the boss in here, so I guess I was always thorough? Didn't have any trouble this time, for sure.

Also, for the record, this dungeon contains Mindflayers. Thankfully, they aren't nearly as deadly as their FF I counterparts.

Maybe of interest is, that it is Eiko who took charge here. But then, Vivi wouldn't, and Garnet is still in shock. And Quina...well, they don't seem like the leader-type, aside from the time they are cooking something.

With the dungeon done, Zidanes party is also back, and we go with him to Kuja. The others get in too, to show Zidane that they are alive, but Eiko gets kidnapped by the creepy clowns. Not that it matters, Kuja just takes the Gulug Stone by magic, which doesn't make it not fit - he needs Eiko, and he is a drama queen.

I didn't forget to get the Namingway card from this room, the only Tetra Master card that is missable. This will be important later.

Cid suggests, that Kuja kidnapped Eiko, because she can summon, and he does need something more powerful than Alexander, to fight Garland with. Which seems pointless, after Alexander fell so easily, it should be clear that no Eidolon is strong enough to fight the Invincible. Well maybe, who knows?

Anyway, the Hildagard I is gone, taken by Kuja, so we follow on the Blue Narciss, to the final continent, whose name I forgot. It seems to only contain Esto Gaza and Mount Gulug.

Esto Gaza seems to be some kind of holy place, with a Bishop there, and all that, who is kind of a snobby jerk. But he does, after some talking, tell us that people who fit the description of Kuja and the Black Mages, came through here.

This is one of the few times where religion is kind of a thing in these games. I wonder, was this once a powerful church? Probably not, as it is in this far corner of the world. Has it something to do with the Mole people, who died out quite some time ago? There isn't much to go on here, but I wonder about this place.

Two points of interest: The shop is REALLY easy to miss, I did my first time through the game. Wondering, why Vivi never got the staff that tought him the -aga spells, which is only sold here, a place that is sealed off on Disc 4. I don't mind the missables in this game too much, anymore, even the ones that contain abilities. But making the -aga spells, specifically them, so easy to miss, is just mean. I still used Vivi for the whole game, my first time through, but he probably was lacking at the end. I still remember having a lot of trouble with Kraken.

The other thing is, that we finally get a bit more info, on why Mognet doesn't work. Apparently, Artemicion rubbed "it" all over himself, which sound cute, considering that we are talking about moogles, with their little, cute paw-hands.

One of the former Mole people was called Une, which is funny, considering you can find Unes Mirror in the auction house. I wonder if there might be more to this, but it's probably just a small reference.

The dungeon is fine, nicely short, and I actually recognized the music, which is kind-of crazy for me.

At the bottom, we just see how Zorn and Thorn try to extract the Eidolons from Eiko. But it isn't working, which makes Kuja more and more angry. They seem to have a last shred of empathy left, as they mention that a subject needs to be at least 16, or the extraction might kill them. But Kuja doesn't care, he needs to defeat Garland, before some kind of plan is activated.

Hearing this, Eikos moogle friend jumps out and defends her. Eiko wakes up, and the moogle starts talking to her. We only see the fight, not being able to command anything, with Eiko summoning the Eidolon that she thought was a moogle. It destroys the chesters immediately.

The Eidolons name is Madeen, which I assume, is a different translation of what would be Maduin, in VI. It kind-of fits, as both are guardians of someone else.

So, as I understand it, Madeen is a summon that saw Eiko as being alone, after everyone else died, and decided to stay by her side. And that was only possible in a form that isn't an Eidolon. I guess.

Kuja, though, sees this as a Trance, which really makes me wonder about what Trance actually IS. Maybe, it isn't really that it makes you stronger, but simply unlocks your true potential, the form of yourself that your actually are. Or that you strive to be, in your heart. Like, Freya is basically able to fly in her Trance state, becoming more of an invincible killing machine, maybe a dragon. Zidane becomes more of a powerful fighter, which brings him closer to what Kuja is. And Steiner becomes a monster truck, ready to wreck all the evildoers in the world, without much thought.

Kuja gets the idea, that it is anger, that induces Trance. Which doesn't really make sense to me - Madeen didn't transform, due to anger, but because they wanted to protect Eiko. Kuja simply rejects the idea, that it is about strong emotion, which makes even less sense, as anger simply is another emotion.

But it's Kuja. Not that he isn't smart, but he seems like someone who sees the world through the lense he chooses to look through.

But what he gets to is, that he needs a powerful soul, even if it isn't his own. He has a new plan, not carring about us anymore. Vivi, still angry, runs after him. The others fight Meltigemini, the form that the jesters actually are. Like, they aren't twins, they once were a DOOM-monster. I feel like there was a plan to explain who or what Zorn and Thorn actually are, but there wasn't enough time. I mean, this clearly implies that they have always been creatures of Kuja. But then, Garnet wouldn't have trusted them, and she IS shocked, when they stop being respectful to her. Oh, well.

After the fight, we learn that Kuja told the Black Mages, that he can't prolonge their life spans. Vivi sits with them, while we find Hilda in the back chamber of this place. Where she apparently has been imprisoned, since Kuja kidnapped her. Which doesn't make much sense, as he just got into here, but maybe she is just bad at explaining, and she was held somewhere else? Who knows.

We do learn, that Kuja didn't care for Hilda, kidnapping her was only a byproduct of getting the airship. Apparently, he was perfectly decent to her, which seems weird. I would assume, he would have thrown her of the airship, or something. But she mentions, that he told her EVERYTHING about his plans, because of coure he would. Kuja is certainly someone, who loves to hear his own voice, and explaining his master plan to someone, showing off how smart and clever he is, sounds totally like him.

Even when I first played the game, the whole Hilda subplot felt really undercooked for me. I think all I needed would be some hints, that she was held captive. But she is just only mentioned as having taken away the airship, and I didn't necessarily expect to see her, then the game suddenly tells me "yeah, we freed her". Ok, cool. I mean, sure, she wanted to get away from Cid, but after being gone for so long, and with everything that is going on, he might have talked about this a bit, at least with Garnet.

The name is, of course, from the queen (or was it princess?) Hilda from FF II.

Thankfully, she at least makes Cid apologies to her, before turning him back into a human. I'm just leaving this here, that Cid acted awful. It is one more time, where the game acts like a guy being sleazy with women, and in this case not treating his wife with respect (plus, of course, the fact that a king shouldn't flirt with his subjects), is isn't that big of a deal, and it's tiresome.

Back in Lindblum, with Cid now finally able to work on the Hildagard III, Hilda explains to us that there are two worlds, and that, while we are from Gaia, Kuja is from Terra.

There is a short ATE from Steiner, asking Tantalus for help, to find Garnet. It's a small moment, but very important, I think. Not quite sure, if Steiner still had to get over himself, or if he already understood that he treated the group incorrectly, but it is good to know, that he has developed a respect for them, and that they are ready to help.

Back to Hilda, and we learn about th Shimmering Island, a place that leads to Terra. Which is sealed, but there is an old, abandoned castle on the Forgotten Continent, which can help with information about the seal. An explorer left his record of his trip, which is implied to be Ipsen. Still love the sense of place, that was put into the world, that we have this popular, basically legendary explorer, whose stories are told to children, and made into somewhat like semi-modern myths.

But first, we have to look for Garnet. While doing so, Zidane finds Beatrix, who wanders around the street, not finding any peace. She does help, though, and guesses correctly - Garnet is probably at the grave of her mother.

I really liked this small scene. Beatrix has fallen fast and heavy. The one thing, where she excelled at, fighting, is clearly not something where she feels like the absolute master anymore. Despite her strength, she could not on her own get out of the castle, when she, Steiner and Freya were holding the line. And then, she could not defend Alexandria from destruction. Especially the latter is not her fault, but still, this has to be painful.

I talked about how Beatrix is a problematic character, seemingly not caring about the attrocities of the war, Brahne brought onto the continent. And even fighting on, when she knew what the queen wanted to do with Garnet.

But here, we see her broken. It seems like she isn't even able to sleep, walking through the streets, being haunted by the things that happened, and that she let happen. Maybe I'm too grateful here, but it seems like she truely regrets what happened in the past - this can't repair anything, and (at least here) no one tells her that it's ok. Zidane just gets his information, and is of. She probably keeps on wandering, without a goal, feeling the guilt of her past deeds.

I really like this. She might never get a comeuppance in the regular sense, but she clearly knows about her sins, which don't let her sleep anymore, and haunt her. I'm glad the game takes the time, to show this, and give her some follow-up to her actions.

Back at Brahnes grave, Zidane finds Garnet. And she can speak again. She talks about, how she always wanted to behave, as she was expected, while being a princess. Which didn't change after her mother died. She always wanted to be like a queen was expected to be.

I imagine that has something to do with how her horn was forcibly taken off. Seems like something, that might leave a heavy trauma behind. I already talked about how the king might not have been the great father that I always assumed he was. The start of the game, her running away to help, is probably at least partly an act of rebellion against her upbringing.

I'm not quite sure, why she can now talk again. But she does ask, to come along with us, that the people will not accept her as the queen yet. Maybe it is simply, that she is putting a weight off her shoulders, to carry it again later on, when she is ready?

My thought here are, that she simply knows, that she still has to do some growing, and that coming along with us will give her this growth. And having this plan makes it possible for her to look clearer into the future.

To visualize this, we see her cutting off her hair, by borrowing Zidanes knife, which had already played an important part during her travels. This dagger gives her now the second time, where she takes on a new face, opens up a new chapter of her lifes journey.

Garnet is a complex character, and I feel the game isn't quite ready to handle it completely (just think of how it is never quite clear, that she has a problem with her summoning skills, until she talks about it, after meeting Ramuh). But it does a fine job on the whole, and I appreciate it trying to do try a complex character like her.

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

This seems like a good point to stop. Next time, we visit Terra.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
With Garnet having overcome, to a degree at least, her trauma, we need to undo the barrier, that stops us from going to Terra. With a new airship, we are off to Ipsen Castle.

Well, we should be. First, I get my Golden Chocobo, and find Chocobo paradise. Mene, the moogle, of course comes along, he and Boko (I think that's his name?) are friends, of course. In there, we find an old friend, who we haven't seen since...I think FF IV? Except for the cameo in FF VII, if you got lucky with the chocobo/moogle summon.

It's a great place (and the last time, where we find a special island near the part where the four corners of the world map connect, I liked that about the PSX FFs), full of Chocobos, just chilling out and playing in the water. There are water slides! We find Chocobos of all the different colors.

But only Chocobos are allowed in here, so Mene has to go. Disappointing. But he doesn't want to stand in the way of his friend, and is on his way. The next point, then, really surprised me - Zidane actually questions how we get away from this island, that we only reached with our flying Chocobo. The airship isn't here. I just love, that we get a short cutscene, where this is acknowledged, and where Mene tries to carry Zidane. Emphasis on "tries".

But Boko is as good a friend as Mene, and comes back. He wants to help us on our journey, before finding his perfect place. And with that, we are done with this arc. It's delightful, I love that this silly minigame gets a bit of story and an arc. It's lovely.

I also find Mognet Central, but can't do anything there for now. We'll be back.

Also, we find Daguerreo, where a four-armed guy is hanging out who is implied to be Gilgamesh (or maybe it's specifically spelled out?). He is weirdly obsessed with the treasure hunter rank. We also find Oracle Kildea here, and I am very happy that at least some people from Cleyra have survived. She seems to enjoy her time here a lot.

The castle is a fascinating place, at least from the outside. It's this weird castle, that looks cool on its own, but also looks like it would normally float in midair, except that it's mirror image also goes down from the middle, and holds it. I forgot to take a picture, but it looks pretty great.

I'm not sure, I really got the gimmick at my other playthroughs (you know, how the weakest weapons are the stronges). I think I just made it through with magic? This time, I got it, and it wasn't much of a problem to get through here.

Kind of interesting is that Amarant has the final part of his character arc. He still doesn't get Zidane, and why he wants to work together with others, instead of just working on his own. So, he suggests a race of him against Zidane and three others. For leveling purposes, I took Eiko, Freya and Garnet. Should have just taken the characters I just wanted to take to the end, but, oh well. Considering that Freyas jump isn't influenced by the dungeons gimmick, and the other two are spell casters, only Zidane is influenced by the gimmick. But for him, I immediately find the starting dagger, so no thing.

We soon find a room with a big world map and four things stuck on them, including some information about four special places. The things are supposed to be mirrors, and we just take them out. Which leads to a boss fight, as the monster here doesn't want us to take the mirrors. I didn't write anything down, so I guess it was a non-issue. The whole dungeon is pretty short, and the battles weren't hard.

There is also a bunch of hidden treasures in here, and one or some of them are hidden behind a wall, that Zidane can do different kinds of things to. It is a funny, little thing, my favourite of the dungeon.

Outside, Amarant hasn't shown up. Zidane goes back, looking for him. We find him, explain that it goes against Zidanes nature to leave someone behind, and now Amarant gets it. That's his arc.

I don't think the main arc of Amarant really works. He would haven needed more time, and a few more moments, where he slowly comes around, instead of suddenly getting it, this time. But I find him to be a fun side character, especially his connection with Freya. So it is fine, I enjoy having him around.

On the airship, Zidane figures out that the four mirrors are for four different locations, that all four have a seal, and they have to be broken at the same time. Again, I like that these characters here are not completely dumb.

I love the concept of having four dungeons, one team of two for each. It's a real shame, that these aren't really dungeons, and that we even only fight one of the guardians, who are clearly inspired by the Fiends from FF I.

So, we get four parties, and I love that a lot. The first team is Eiko and Garnet, with the former wanting to talk about something with the latter. In the end, she just wants to ask if Garnet loves Zidane, and Garnet avoids the question. I don't quite care about that much, because I don't care much about the whole loveplot between the two. But I love, that these two characters, who are basically sisters, work together. There is a bond there, and I really like that we get these bonds between characters that aren't the very main one.

The next pairing is Amarant and Freya, and while Amarant complains about having to go with her, it is pretty clear that he likes her. My favourite moment of Amarant is in here, where Freya was nearly hit by an attack or trap, and he warns her. No snark or anything, he just says something like "Freya, watch out". It is clear, that he cares for her, and they fit well together, as I probably mentioned, being strong, lonely fighters - funnily enough with Amarant, considering how he has really great abilities for helping his teammembers. But the same is true for Freya. Saying that, I really like that there is more to these too, that their fighting style implies that they actually try to be part of the group, despite how they act.

Steiner and Vivi, of course, go together. No surprise, considering that Vivi is the one character who Steiner always respected. For whatever reason, I still wonder why. Maybe he is just very impressed by magic? Steiner clearly knows by now, if not earlier, that Vivi isn't the greates fighter, due to being scared of dangerous monsters. But he is here to teach him, and help him along. The fight against the guardian is a great showcase of this, with Steiner suggesting a plan, not even caring if Vivi agrees, because he KNOWS how powerful Vivi is.

So, I love these three subgroups. With that, we have Zidane and Quina left. It's kind of mean, that Zidane tells Quina explicitely, that they are basically the leftover that he took. Quina doesn't mind, because they never mind, but I feel like Zidane, too, is a leftover here. I mean, he fits together with everyone in some way. But everyone has someone else in the group, who has a partner that works better. Like, Zidane is good with everyone, but great with no one.

The Earth Guardian, for Zidane and Quina, is the only one we fight. A shame. The battle didn't seem to have been too bad, I don't have any notes taken. I think I used Quina for healing, and Zidane just attacked.

With that, the seal is broken (I remember something like this from FF V, too), we can cross to the other world, using what is called the Soul Path, as it leads souls to Terra. In a cool FMV, we see everyone float upwards.

And with that, we reached Terra. It's a beautiful place.

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That's just an example. It looks great.

Zidane is also immediately greeted by Garland, who talks a bit cryptic, finds it fun that Zidane thinks names have meaning, and vanishes, for now.

Considering how this game is so much about people being people, and others trying to manipulate them like puppets, this is pretty relevant. A name defines you. Think back to the Black Mages, when they told Kuja that they have a name, and him not caring. Names, like words in general, give ideas structure. A name means, you are someone. A name you chose yourself means, you are someone who defined yourself (even if you just accepted you given name). It's a small line, but it is very important in this game.

On the next screen, we meet a woman who looks pretty similar to Zidane - same silhouette, a tail, similar hair. She leads us along to Zan Baal, the city here. She needs some time to realize that Zidane doesn't remember anything about this place, though.

As a short aside, Garnet mentions that this place seems lifeless. And yes, the ways don't seem natural, and the trees don't look really lifely, I think?

The place also really reminds me of the city of the Ancients from FF VII. A lot of blue, created by an old race, stuff like seashells, reminding one of the sea. But unlike in FF VII, where the beings who lived there were dead, the people here don't really live (except that they do, but you know what I mean).

When reaching Zan Baal, there is an FMV, and we see the Invincible again, as it rizes, and Garnet recognizes the eye. The trauma sits deep, she gets unconscious.

We get Garnet to a bed, with the beings here not caring much about us. Right, they all look similar to Zidane, and basically like copies of each other. They know that they were created, and that they have no age, they don't understand the concept of needing to rest. Which is weird, as they are made to do so, when the light receeds. So, they try to learn to act like regular people, I guess, but don't really get it.

I see some connection to the Black Mages.

They talk about waiting to get souls, and know about how the planet basically breathes with souls, them being it's lifeblood. And deeper down, we find tubes where Genomes (that's how they call themselves) are measured to find ways to improve them.

I really like this place. It feels so much like old-school sci-fi (the idea is very Star Trek like), this weird idea of people from Earth finding a planet with a population, who is just there as a means for other people. They are basically clones, I guess, and exist only to serve others. I can see Kirk coming here, and making them see that their lifes have meaning, too, aside from what they are for others.

We get another hint with the blue light, how it pains the Genomes, and how Zidane hasn't been the same, since getting here and how it is due to the blue light.

Back when he talked about himself, he told Garnet about remembering only a blue light. Similar to she only remembered the giant eye. Speaking of which, Garnet gets it now. She knows, that this is the eye that destroyed Alexandria and Madain Sari.

Zidane learns, that the Genome that he met first wants to meet him. He goes. And even though Garnet is better now, I feel like he would even go, if she were still sleeping. His arc has started, and he doesn't take it well.

Showing again, that the characters here are slightly smarter than many other JRPG characters, Zidane already figured out that this is his home. He is disappointed, though, as the others seem like zombies, completely unlike him. He asks, why he is different, why he has a soul. The woman tells him, that Zidane is special, being chosen by Garland, whose will is absolute.

It's an interesting contrast to the Black Mages. They started to flee, when they got started to be self-conscious. The have to be held blind, or they will take their lifes back from others. The Genomes, though, maybe because they never were made into slaving war-machines, don't question Garlands word. It's pretty creepy. They are all there to resurrect the people from Terra. Well, not resurrect, they just sleep.

Zidane gets it. Terra is just a horrible planet, that needs to suck the energy out of other planets to survive (it might not be strictly an FF game, but this seems to be a reference to Lavos from Chrono Trigger, with this awful life form). And the Genomes will give up their bodies for the "real" population of Terra.

We also learn, that Garland tried to fuse the worlds forcefully, one time. It failed, due to no clear explanation, I think. But that is the reason, why the place with the Gulug Stone is on Gaia. Signs are still there.

Garland wants to get control of the cycle of souls, and Zidane is supposed to help him with that.

Vivi, of course, is trying to explain to the Genomes, that they are more than vessels. He also meets Zidane, who is pretty angry, not talkative. Zidane, than, meets Amarant, for a neat, little scene. They are talk-fighting a bit, with Zidane being in a really bad mood. But we learn, that Amarant doesn't remember his parents, only that he always had to fight. Zidane notes the "had" in there. With all of Amarants snarky demeanor, he lets it slip again and again, that he likes the time with this group.

Zidane is lead further along by the woman, to the floating castle Pandemonium (seems like a reference to FF II and FF VIII at once). It's the place, where souls wait for their restoration. I imagine it is not a coincidence, that this sounds like an afterlife thing, about souls being stuck in Hell.

Interestingly, the scenes we see of Zidane with Quina (there is one), Vivi and Amarant are ATEs, you don't have to watch them. These three are also the ones, who you can get to follow you, while looking for Zidane, with Eiko.

I wonder, why it's these four characters, if there is a significance to this group here. But nothing comes up.

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

And with that, I'll stop for now. Even without all the exposition, I feel like I miss out on interesting things, my mind isn't quite there, which is a shame here. There is too much interesting stuff going on.

One thing though: This game has a lot of references to FF II, which is surprising and nice, considering how people look at this game.

Next time: My favourite song in this game, one of my favourite in the series. And Kuja, probably.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
We continue in Pandemonium, a place that looks more hellish. There are more harsh red tones, instead of the soft blue outside. Still, there is something disturbing about this. It's not a place for comfort, to be cozy, it's just a space for Garland to structure his work (I guess, I'm not sure what he does there). And outside, the place that looks inviting and soft, is made to hurt the people living here.

Everything we get from Terra, every single part, seems destructive, painful, wrong. Part of it can probably be blamed on the fact that the Terrans are aliens, so what they enjoy is different from what the Gaians would consider nice. But still, who would design the room full of creepy faces? Everything is black, metallic or out of stone. I feel like there is even more going on, more having gone wrong, than the game really lets on here. Maybe the corruption of Terra went too far, already? Certainly, they are another people who went for death, by following a deadly way (similar to how the people in the world of FF VII nearly killed the planet, even without Sephiroth). They should be dead, and instead of dying, we get the repeated motive of monsters who cling to live, everyone else be damned. Do they even know, what beauty is? Art? Delight? There is probably a very good reason, why Garlands place is called Pandemonium. The Terrans, sleeping in their coffins, simply never die, but they don't live. The just are there, waiting in Hell, because they can't let go.

Garland talks to Zidane about all kinds of stuff. Kuja is basically his younger brother, too strong willed for being a proper vessel (which was the problem with the Black Waltzes, too, or at least with one of them). Due to that, Garland thought of discarding him, but instead sent him to Gaia, as his servant, to disrupt the cycle of soulds.

I think, Zidane is surprised here (not sure, maybe I misremember), that Kuja is simply another one of the special clones, like Zidane is, too. We, too, learn that only here, and it is made clear, that Kuja rejects what he is (or rather, what he is supposed to be). He colors his hair, dresses extravagantly, and tries to be the puppet master, instead of the puppet he feels to be.

Kuja is a monster, but similar to Brane, there is clear sympathy to be had here. What is basically his father rejected him, for not being the way he was supposed to be, instead focusing on his younger brother. Kuja must feel horribly lonely. We will come back to that.

In any case, this makes clear that Kuja is just the dark reflection of Zidane. With slightly different circumstances, they could have switched places. They simply want to live their lives freely. Except that Kuja knows, and Zidane doesn't. Or didn't, until now. And with Kuja being always monitored, at least in some way, always in fear of being controlled, I am not surprised that he went crazy.

Not that this apologizes anything he does. Just saying, the root is a toxic family dynamic. It is stated, that Kuja got jealous of Zidane, for being more powerful, and therefore dropped him on Gaia. I guess he had to hear all the time, how much better Zidane was.

Kuja seems to have had more ambition than Zidane, though, which made him perfect to create war and chaos to Gaia, creating an unnatural flow of souls. In the end, the plans for Zidane was to replace Kuja, also bringing chaos to Gaia.

We also get some exposition about how the cycle of Gaia is suposed to be interrupted, to drain the Gaian souls and fill the void with souls from Terra, taking over the living space that way. The Iifa Tree is just the soul divider. The mist then, are the stagnant souls of Gaia.

Which means, that the monsters we were fighting, who are created out of the Mist, are probably reborn, corrupted beings, souls of people and animals who died, and couldn't get into the cycle. The game doesn't go into more depth, but that's how I understand it, and it's just all the more chilling.

Kujas, and later Zidanes role, is to be the angel of death, making souls go to the Iifa Tree, where they are blocked, while the ones from Terra are supposed to get in. Kuja is just there to kill a lot of people.

Zidane, of course, doesn't care about his destiny, and just wants to destroy Terra, to protect the people of Gaia, who he loves. Garland offers a place among the stars, for all of Eternity, while Zidane just wants a home. I feel like, while Garlands offer is nonsense, he and Zidane will never be regular Terrans, after all - he really doesn't get it. As we later learn, he is just another created person, made for a specific job.

You know what, the Terrans are godawful, and the true villains of this game. They made everyone else into victims and puppets, and hurt so many people, just because these jerks couldn't accept, that they killed themselves. Instead, they just kill, and kill, and kill, just so they can prolongue their pathetic existence. Just more Gestahl, just more Shinra. Thank god, that Kuja kills them all.

In any case, Zidane wants to attack Garland, but is just made unconscious by him. And Garland regrets, that he has to make him into a regular Genome.

In a short aside, we see Kuja, scheming. He wants to punish Zidane and Garland, and rule over Gaia and Terra.

And then, we see Zidane in this awful room:

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What even is this? Are the Terrans a bunch of H. R. Gigers? Something about this screams "dead womb" to me, dunno. It's horrible.

I never understood what happened here, though. Why is Zidane in this room? Nothing is happening, he just wakes up and can get out. I mean, he needs the help of his friends, so maybe it is implied, that he would be a prisoner, normally, and that this room would slowly transform him into a regular Genome?

Here, Zidane has his crisis of self, wondering who he is, thinking that he is worthless. He can only focus on being an empty vessel, and even the thought of his friends doesn't help.

When he wakes up, Vivi and Eiko are with him. So, maybe he only woke up, because they were here. Considering how this place hurts Zidane, mainly the blue, but maybe even the pure existence here, I guess his mood is artificially created by Garland. I simply can't think of another explanation. Zidane never cared about destiny, and he knows, that his home is elsewhere, be it Tantalus or his team.

He certainly forgot the thing he showed others to be so important: That your friends will help you. That you don't have to work through everything alone. Which is not unrealistic, I know that I'm way better at giving advice than taking it, even my own.

That said, with all his pain, I don't think it's ok, that he calls Vivi a brat, and that he tells him to shut up. But we all have our bad days, so, whatever.

When trying to get out, my favourite piece of music starts playing, You're not Alone. I remember, when playing it the second time, I went into the ability menu, and just let it play, loving this great song. There are more that I appreciate now, but this one specifically jumped out to me.

The scene itself is pretty great too. I love, how Zidane faces monsters that he simply can't beat alone, and then, before he falls, his friends appear. Freya is the first, simply telling him that he might need some help. Amaranth, too, appears and fights alongside both of them, and he calls him a hypocrite.

I really like how both just help him, giving him a bit harsh truth, but simply help him in their stoic ways, by fighting alongside him. And Amaranth is right, of course.

In the next room, Steiner and Quina are already fighting a monster. Zidane joins them, and it seems like they slowly get through to him. I don't think there is anything specific to these two, it's just that he sees all his friends caring so much for him. He still rejects the help, not wanting to be babysat, and goes on.

But in the next room, a monster nearly kills him, and it's only due to Garnet, that he doesn't die. And then, we get the scene where Zidane explains, that he feels guilty for all the bad stuff that happened, and everyone tellling him, that they want to help him, like he helped them.

It's clear, that Garnet has the biggest impact on Zidane. But my favourite part here was Steiner. Him calling Zidane a comrade was really touching. These two went through a lot, and I love how deep their bond is now.

Man, I remember my first time, where I expected Steiner to be the recurring enemy type, because you fight him a few times at the very start. They have a nice arc. I love Steiner.

We than get some edgy teenage philosophy from Garland, about how life is death. Because, you see, to live is to give life meaning, yet one must take others lives to survive. He wants Terras soul to sleep, until they forget this paradox. In a new dimension, where life and death becomes one.

I think there is some dungeon, that's not really worth talking about, before we face Garland.

So, this reminds me so much of the antagonist, who wants to destroy everything, because nothing means anything. Garland can't take the paradox, so no one should even deal with it. And to get away from the confusion, we take the things away that actually give life meaning, everything that is joy and fun.

Garland asks Zidane who he is, but Zidane ignores the question. It doesn't matter. He has friends, which is enough of a reason to live. You know, I always liked the idea that you aren't truly dead, as long as someone remembers you. This is kind of in the same vein. There is more to us than just our singular existence (see also The World Ends With You). Death isn't the end. Relationships and love go on, even after we die. The focus on death, living forever and perfection is pure poison, to everything that is worthwile about life.

I think my team here was the one I would use for the end of the game: Freya, Steiner and Quina. Freya is awesome, my favourite Dragoon by far, her design is amazing, and I love her. Steiner hits like a truck, and is, in general, a loyal and lovable person. I adore him. Quina is a blue mage, and therefore always fun. Plus, their design and philosophy are great and fun.

I probably should have used Vivi somehow in there, but I really don't know who to put out of the party for him. I guess it would have been Zidane? The game would have even let me do this. Oh, well.

Here, we have three fights in a row. Which sounds pretty brutal, but wasn't much of a thing, in the end. I did retry, but only because I realized that my abilites weren't ideal, and because I wanted to steal stuff and it took too long. In any case, the battles weren't super easy, but the enemies here just die so fast, having so few HP. And I think Kuja didn't use his worst stuff against me.

But there is stuff between the fights. After fighting the Silver Dragon, that Kuja used to ride for so long, Zidane asks Garland what he wants. Here, we learn that Garland was only created to oversee Terra. He doesn't even do the horrible things he does for himself. He is just another slave to his programming, and unable to overcome it.

This also explains, why he seems so detached from everything, and why he doesn't get what an awful father figure he has been for Kuja. He doesn't care, it's not part of his being. He simply thinks about everything from the goals that were put into him.

I wonder, what would happen to him, when he isn't needed anymore, when Gaia has been taken over? Would he been killed?

Next, we fight Garland. After that, we see Kuja, on top of the Invincible, flying above us. With that, he now has to power to control all souls. And it was through our help, that he could come, because we broke the seals.

We fight our third fight in a row, finally against Kuja. I'm not even sure, what you have to do to trigger him going into Trance and defeating us with Ultima, but that's how the fight ends after some time. According to Kuja, trance is the power of a soul that fights against being destroyed. So, with the regular trance too weak for him, he took all the once from the Invincible, containing the souls from Madain Sari, the Iifa Tree and Alexandria. One of the more powerful souls is the one from Brane.

Even when Kuja appeared, having taken the power that was supposed to be his masters, the scene resembled the one from FF VI. But now, we go even more explicit - Kuja kicks Garland, unceremoniously, into the depths of Terra.

But Garland still hurts him. Like the Black Mages, Kuja doesn't have long to live. He can't rule an etrnal kingdom. Kuja was supposed to die, when Zidane was ready, and was created that way. I don't even think, that Garland can really gloat, and that he only wants to tell Kuja the truth. But he still tells him, that he doesn't have to live for much longer. Which, one last time, drives home how much he is like the Black Mages, that he despises so much.

Kuja never overcame the reason for his existence. Especially by defying it so much, trying to get stronger, did he play into Garlands hands, creating the war that the Terrans and the old man wanted. His death might seem like he could never escape his fate anyway, but look at the Black Mages. Their lives are even shorter, and still, they try to live it after their own rules. By focusing so much on how he hates Garland, Kuja made sure never to escape him.

I do like, that Ultima is reserved for Kuja, at his most powerful, and that there is no way to get away from it. It is, indeed, the ultimate spell here, destroying everyone. It also creates the weird situation, that Kuja is always stronger than we are. But maybe that's the point. That this pure strength (and nothing else is Ultima, it is just there for destruction) simply isn't enough - despite all his power, he will still die.

With that knowledge, Kuja goes berserk, and destroys this godforsaken place. Look, what he does is the worst. He knows that he will die soon, so he throws a tantrum and wants that everyone else dies too. He is the worst. But, as mentioned before, I won't be sad for a second, that the Terrans will finally be dead, and will never terrorize another world, ever again.

Everyone flees, a scene that reminded me of the very end of FF VI, where everyone tries to leave the tower, before it falls apart. There is a funny scene, though, where Zidane sees a wall full of eyes. Living ones, that watch him. Garnet couldn't be any less impressed. "They are just eyes. Let's go." She really grew up.

We do save the Genomes, though, they aren't responsible for the shittiness of the Terrans. The woman that lead us at the start, as we learn here, was also a special Genome, created so she might replace Zidane or Kuja. She is still stuck in the thought, that her destiny is predetermined, and that, with this place falling apart, there is no point for her to live on. Zidane motivates her to come along. And we learn, that her name is Mikoto.

When getting back to Gaia, we see that the Mist has returned, covering all of Gaia now. I remember, when I played the game for the second time, I wanted to wait with the Chocograph hunt for the very end. Forgetting, that the fog would come back, making everything harder again. I never liked it, simply because the world looks pretty nice, when flying over it.

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

With this, disk 3 is over, and the end game starts. It's also a good point to take a break. So, next time, we end the story, I guess, and talk about the last side quests. And we take a look at the beautiful last dungeon that is memoria.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
Terra is destroyed, the Mist is back on Gaia, and Kuja is probably on his way to end all of existence.

First stop is the Black Mage village, where we leave the Genome. This is probably the best place for them, with the Black Mages knowing how it is to start learning how to work as a society, instead of more-or-less mindless drones. Also, they are basically the nicest people, so the Genomes will have space to grow and develop. For however long, which might be only a few years, considering how it is with the Black Mages and Kuja.

Vivi hopes, that if Genomes and Black Mages can live along each other, that it might be possible for Black Mages and humans too. Which is a sensible approach, you basically give the Black Mages a chance to test it out, how it is to live with another race.

Most importantly, the chocobo egg has hatched, and we see a super sweet scene, where a Genome is scared of the cute, little baby chocobo. And because Black Mages are great with names, they gave it the name Bobby Corwen, and always use both names. I love all about this, but the Black Mage village is made out of delight, anyway.

Before going to the final dungeon, I tackle a bunch of sidequests. First, I collect all the Stellazios for the first time. Not much to say here (I didn't take notes, at least).

Then, I get the special stuff from the auction house - namely the Rats Tail (referencing FF IV), Unes Mirror and Dogas Artifact (both referencing FF III, of course) and the Griffins Heart. By selling them, I get a chance to acquire the Magical Fingertip, which I can exchange for the Excalibur.

The one who takes the Magical Fingertip is some old guy in Daguerreo, and there is a neat little story attached there. He tells us, that the artifact are the fingers of a legendary craftsman named Gogo, who was able to make great dolls. The old man wanted it, so he could make a doll, that looked like his wife. But seeing them, he realizes that these are just really worn-down fingers, just like his own. So, Gogo didn't produce anything magical per se, he was just great at his work, but never gave himself any rest. Like the old man, who lost his wife, while only caring for his work.

Take time for the people you care about, everyone. It's a simple message, but this game, and the series as a whole, is about the importance of the relationships we craft, and that they are the most important thing of them all.

I don't think, the reference to Gogo goes beyond the name, though.

Next, I take on the Behemoth in the weapons shop, and defeat it by making Quina REALLY hard to kill. I don't remember the details, but the Behemoth had no chance.

After that, I did the Mognet sidequest, which was cute and lead me over a bunch of places, once more. And with that, the Moogles can deliver mail again. I don't think there is much more to it, except that I love the moogles here, and that it all was super cute.

With all that done, we take on the final dungeon. Above the Iifa Tree, there is a portal that will lead us to Kuja. When we get closer, it releases a ton of White (silver?) Dragons. Thankfully, we are supported by an airship fleet, lead by Cid and Tantalus, plus Beatrix with the Red Rose. The FMV looked pretty great, too. But that's a given for this game.

Still, we have to fight the weakest incarnation of Shinryu (I have no notes, so I guess he was no challenge), and then get into the portal. Inside, Garland tells us, telepathically, that this is Memoria, a place created out of memories. It looks pretty awesome, there is a walkway in the air, not touching the ground, with only the way forward into a fascinating castle.

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The inside looks similar to the outside, at the start, we explore a giant castle, where some of the ultimate weapons are hidden, too. Plus, there are some kind of card ghosts - invincible creatures, that you can only find by seeing the ! above your head, and challenging them to a game of Tetra Master. It's kind of weird, but also a pretty neat touch, I thought. One of them seems to think, he is some kind of final boss, considering how he talks.

After some way, we fight a non-random battle, that is still initiated by just touching a specific place (or, more correctly, crossing a specific line). Considering this is "Malaris", and we fight basically the four Fiends from FF I again, it is very likely a neat, little reference. Not much to say here, except that Zidane died to the final attack, that the boss used after losing all its HP. I think this became a thing here, Zidane kept on dying at the boss battles.

Oh, and a nice thing I already mentioned last time: I think you can take Zidane out of the party, the only time in the game where this is possible. I wonder why. I don't think this is even a reference of any kind. Maybe, considering how memories of everyone are one anyway, how everything is part of the same life source, it might be a bit of "we are all one", so if Zidane isn't in the party, he is still there? Or, rather, this is a battle where the whole world participates in, anyway, no matter if they are physically here, or not.

On the next screen, we see the battle of Alexander versus Bahamut, leaving back only a ruin of the castle, including Brahnes gravestone. Interestingly, at this point, Quina didn't see anything, because they were not there. So, the memories aren't being completely shared yet.

Which changes on the next screen. We see Garnets mother reaching Alexandria, and Zidane wonders, why he can see it, too. The scene after looks amazing, again. Take a look:

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Once more, the memory of the horrible eye, that traumatized Garnet so heavily.

Garland continues to talk to us. He explains, that he feared the Eidolons, and wanted to deal with them, before they became too strong. He also talks about a tremendous force, that was summoned to Gaia during the age of war. But with the Gaians not ready to harness that great power, the jewel was broken into four pieces, with the people praying never to see the corresponding Eidolon again.

This is clearly supposed to be Alexander, being the one who is summoned only by Garnet and Eiko together, both using their stones. So, this also was Kujas plan, in the end, to get all the stones and summon Alexander, to get him as his ultimate weapon against Garland.

Remember how the story started, with Garnet taking the jewel piece from Alexandria? Took long, for this plan to get done with, in Disc 3, only to be simply stopped by what was not much more than a handswipe from Garland.

Here, we also fight Tiamat. Who, again, wasn't much of a challenge. I do wonder, why they changed the order of the Fiends, compared to FF I.

After a bit more walking, we see yet another great image:

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We see, how Terra tried to assimilate Gaia, 5000 years ago, and failed, due to the live that was already on the planet. The native civilization of Terra died in the process, and their souls were put into stasis, I guess, keeping for whenever the people on Gaia would be dead.

This place might not have the interesting mecanics of Ultimecias Castle, but it has some really great scenery, it looks beautiful. And the concept of going back in time by memory is pretty neat, too.

Next screen, we find what looks like an Ocean, and Quina swimming around to catch some fish, but realizing that they are suffocating. But Zidane explains, that it is all in Quinas mind, which immediately makes them be able to walk around normally, and breathe again. The whole thing is part of the planets memory.

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Like the life stream being the whole of life on the planet, with everything being connected, the same is true for memories. With everyone being connected, memories are also shared by everyone. This brings home the pointlessness of immortality even more. No one ever really dies here, everyone is part of the memory of the whole planet.

There is also a hidden boss in this room, Hades. I tried to fight it, but died horribly. Cool design, though, with him sitting on his throne.

We also fight Kraken here. And still, it is the one I have the most trouble with of the four Fiends. It wasn't much of a problem this time, but the first time I played this game, I was a roadblock, and I had to stop for some time, being unable to beat him. No idea how long, but certainly a few days, if not weeks, before I decided to grind and try again. Which just shows, that I didn't get the details of the battle system - the jerk was just too fast for me (which is still a thing, he seemed really fast, even without his tentacles).

A bit further in, we see the birth of Gaia. 5000 years ago. At this time, Terra had reached its peak of prosperity, leading to the hubris of the people there, that lead to their downfall. And Garland was created, to deal with the fallout.

Soon, we find ourselfes in this amazing room:

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This is before Gaia. Space. I love Space, how infinite and lonely it looks. This place always reminds me of the anime Odysseus 31 (here, take a look at the intro - warning: flashing lights). It is the concept of the ancient story, put into a sci-fi concept, and the intro is full 80s anime glory. It might be the first anime I ever saw, and I have an infinite amount of nostalgia points for it.

Anyway, we also fight Lich here. He dies.

I know, that this is the place where you can get the Excalibur 2. I never got it, and probably never will, because speedrunning goes completely counter the way I normally experience games.

We walk into Space, away from the birth of the planet, further back. To the very core, from where existence of everything started. And here, Garland fades away.

I stay with what I said. Garland did horrible things, but I'm not sure how much of that he even understood. He was created as a creature, that was there to serve Terra, and might simply not really comprehend what it means, to be a living being, to be free and independant. He never was.

Zidane certainly seems, like he has maybe not forgiven him, but he cares for Garland. When Garland says his farewell, Zidane screams his name. And Garland tells us, with his last words, that he didn't regret, being born. So, there is something there. Maybe he understood something.

And then, we reach the Crystal, the start of everything. The rest is gone. Not really, but we left it behind. It is still there, we can get back out. But still, we moved back in time to the very beginning of everything. This place feels a bit, like a reference to the very end of FF III, where we end up in a place that was stripped of everything, a world that was consumed by Darkness. It's not the same, but has a related feel to it. It's a whole universe, reduced to it's very basics.

It's the first time, that we see the crystals since FF V. You could probably argue, that the crystal essence of the Espers in VI and the Materia of VII are similar, taking the place of the traditional crystals, but its the first time since V that there is a thing called "Crystal".

At the very end, we find Kuja in Trance form, and the crystal itself. He is ready to destroy the crystal, destroying everything and everyone, the whole of existence, with it. And Zidane calls Kuja out, for being a horrible coward. That, just because he has to die, he shouldn't take everyone with him. Like...I would like to write something here, but the idea of someone not wanting do die (very understandable in itself) leading said person to kill everyone is just such a pathetic move.

I get the fear. But maybe don't ruin it for everyone else. Look at the Black Mages. Look at Vivi. They all are way stronger, than Kuja could ever be.

But before fighting Kuja, we face off against another reference, Deathguise from FF VI. I actually die the first time, because it starts with Meteor, which makes the whole thing a gamble. It's probably possible that everyone just dies in the first round. Not liking this, but the second time, I get through this nonsense.

Next, we fight Trance Kuja, who is soon defeated, too. But still, he manages to defeat us once more with Ultima, before getting knocked out, and thrown out of Memoria.

We never were able to defeat him. He always had more pure strength. And still, we won, because we have friends.

Kuja does mention, that he doesn't care for his defeat. He will die anyway, and then he won't have to be scared anymore. I don't think it's much of a surprise, that this guy is scared of death.

But Zidane isn't dead, the crystal, though, is gone. But there is something else, another bodyless voice, talking:

You stand before the final dimension,
and I am the darkness of eternity...
All life bears death from birth.
Life fears death, but lives only to die.
It starts with anxiety.
Anxiety becomes fear.
Fear leads to anger...
anger leads to hate...
hate leads to suffering...
The only cure for this feat is total destruction.

Kuja was a victim of his own fear.
He concluded he could only save himself by destroying the origin of all things - the crystal.
Kuja's action proves it.
All things live to perish.
At last, life has uncovered this truth.
Now, it is time to end this world.


I exist for one purpose.
To return everything back to
the zero world, where there is
no life and no crystal
to give life.
In a world of nothing,
fear does not exist.
This is the world that all life desires.


So, this is Necron, and he speaks from above, I guess residing in the shining dome of holy light above Zidane and the others. So, he is implied the have some main godhood, some primal one. Giving him light instead of darkness is interesting, but probably just a visual choice.

This guy feels a lot like a reference to the Cloud of Darkness from FF III (plus some resemblance to the Void of V, but that in itself seems a bit like a reinterpretation of the CoD). A being, that is not malevolent, but waits for its time, to fulfill its duty. In this case, a world where nothing exists, to make sure that no one will ever be afraid again. Exchanging the bad sides and the good ones of existing against Nothing.

Sure, there is the fear of death, that all creatures have in some way. And Necrons logic is, that this fear leads to a lot of suffering. Which is just such a one-sided look at it, that it doesn't seem worth the discussion anymore. Sure, there is suffering, but there is also great joy, and if this part is ignored, the whole discussion is pointless. Don't take away joy for everyone.

For another reference, the characters who don't fight give their power for the once that do. Very similar to how FF IV handled the final battle.

Necron looks pretty awesome, and the way he throws out status disabilities makes me remember Neo-Exdeath (which is no surprise, considering he reuses Grand Cross). It also makes him one of the hardest boss battles in the game, at least for me. I didn't die, but had a lot to do with dealing with status problems, despite giving my characters a bunch of resistances.

I remember the other two times I played this game, where this fight seemed incredibly brutal, like I would die every second, but somehow survived, and then suddenly, it was over, and I had one. Short and intense.

This time, it felt longer. But it didn't matter, in the end, he fell, and I didn't die.

After being defeated, he wonders, why we defy our destiny (this word again, it's what we did during the whole game), and we are teleported away, by an unknown force. And Necron, while vanishing, tells us that he will never truely be gone, as long as life and death exist. Yeah, very similar to the CoD.

Similar to the CoD, I like Necron and what he represents. The infinite Nothing, compared to the passion we are fighting for, something that looms over us all the time, due to our tendency for violence. He is always there, waiting. And, in the end, our enemies were always victims too. What we have to overcome is not them, or at least not just them, but a bad core idea, that goes beyond these antagonists. The thing that their way leads to.

So, I think Necron is a very fitting, final boss.

Outside the Iifa Tree, Zidane goes back inside, to find Kuja. He wants to save him, knowing that he could have done the same thing as Kuja, would he have been in his place. We get another nice FMV, before we reach Kuja, who is dying.

This very much reflects Brahnes dying scene. Kuja did horrible things. He is not forgiven, but he is shown kindness. Zidane knows, that it was Kuja who teleported them outside. One act of kindness, shortly before his death. Which does mean something. But certainly, Kuja is more than just the monster that initiated the death of so many people. Without defending his actions (which were horrible), he was a victim to other forces. And he is still someone, Zidane cares for. So Zidane shows kindness. Because no one else did. So that Kuja has one nice thing happening to him.

And with that, we skip a bit ahead.

Similar to how the game started, we are in Alexandria, were someone like Vivi appears, meeting Puck. We see more Vivis appearing. So, appearantly, Vivi found out how to use his magical powers for good, how to create new life, instead of destroying life with it, the way he did during the game.

We see Freya and Fratley, who now spend their lives together, despite Fratley still not remembering her. Not sure how to feel about this. I kind of wished, Freya would have found her peace on her own. But then, that would run counter to the theme of the game, and her arc. It just feels weird, that Fratley is still with her, a bit forced, like we needed this happy end for her. I wished, she would have accompanied Amaranth.

Beatrix, still haunted by everything that happened, leaves the Save The Queen behind, saying goodbye to Alexandria. As mentioned before, I do like this a lot. Beatrix clearly paid a lot for her deeds. Not physically, but there are obviously deep, emotional scars, that won't let go of her. It's surprisingly grim, and would be an ending that makes her much more sympathetic, to me. Like, she acted horribly, but the things she did have deep consequences for her.

We see Amaranth and Lani, going to Alexandria. As mentioned, I wished it was Freya who accompanied him. But I'm glad the game gave Lani a bit of an arc.

We see Eiko, who has been adopted by Cid and Hilda. They, too, want to go to Alexandria, to see a play.

We see Steiner, who waits for Beatrix, telling her not to go. The game makes them into a couple, and I'm not happy with that. It takes away the thing that makes Beatrix arc good, worsening her character. I get it, that someone you care for forgives you, and tells you how important you are, can heal wounds. But still, this seems too easy, and also forced. Dunno, I don't like the romances we get at the end. Maybe that's me, but they fell forced, and the game would work better without them.

Between the scenes, we get some monologue from Vivi, talking about Zidane, saying goodbye. And he ends, by saying his Farewell, after thanking everybody. It's pretty nice, and fittingly bittersweet. The game sometimes feels like a fairytale, but it has these grimmer elements at his side. Which is why I don't like how some of them are taken away by romances. It feels cheep.

And for the last scene, we see "I Want to Be Your Canary", or at least how it ends, in Alexandria. Everyone is here, including a hooded actor, who reveals himself to be Zidane. He was gone for a year (I think), and when Garnet sees him, she jumps into his arms. It's probably relevant, that, while running, she drops her gem, but leaves it for now. Zidane is more important.

This, too, is implied to be a romance, and it's another one that doesn't need to be there. And, honestly, considering the game never actually says that they are a couple, I'll just assume they are good friends with a deep bond. Sorry for the bit of a sour note at the end, but I'm tired of showing emotions in a way in media, that could be interpreted as characters just deeply caring for each other (like good friends do) as "they are clearly a couple".

But enough of that. This is it, FF IX is over. I very much enjoyed my time with this game, I still love the characters and the story, but especially the wonderful world and atmosphere it creates. The writing is fun and sharp, and it has a bunch of actually different looking races. And one of my favourite casts of the series.

As always, one more post, and then I'll take another break. That said, it's quite some time, since I beat the game, so the break might be pretty short. I'm already looking forward, to playing FF X.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
Nice write-ups, and congrats on finishing the game! Looking forward to the wrap-up, as always.

Oh, and a nice thing I already mentioned last time: I think you can take Zidane out of the party, the only time in the game where this is possible. I wonder why. I don't think this is even a reference of any kind. Maybe, considering how memories of everyone are one anyway, how everything is part of the same life source, it might be a bit of "we are all one", so if Zidane isn't in the party, he is still there? Or, rather, this is a battle where the whole world participates in, anyway, no matter if they are physically here, or not.
What's particularly odd about this is that it's not something you 'unlock' in the endgame, it is strictly for Memoria — if you remove Zidane from the party and then go to leave Memoria, you're forced to put him back in. It speaks to some sort of intent, but damned if I know what it is.

Regardless, this was something I took advantage of. Admittedly, not right away… I kept Zidane in the party throughout Memoria in order to steal from the bosses. But for the final battles, I went with a party of Garnet, Freya, Vivi and Quina. Not the most radical party composition, but it was nice to get my four faves together for once.

We see Freya and Fratley, who now spend their lives together, despite Fratley still not remembering her. Not sure how to feel about this. I kind of wished, Freya would have found her peace on her own. But then, that would run counter to the theme of the game, and her arc. It just feels weird, that Fratley is still with her, a bit forced, like we needed this happy end for her. I wished, she would have accompanied Amaranth.
I've got mixed feelings on it, too. On one hand, I like the idea that, though Fratley still doesn't remember their past, they've spent enough time together to have forged a new bond — you can read that as them being soulmates, or just that it's a new beginning for them, but either way I think that's powerful. But on the other, yeah, it's hard to shake the feeling that Freya's arc hasn't moved an inch, except now they've contrived a happy ending for her.
 
I finally finished FFIX and caught up on the thread; great to read your thoughts on it as always.

But then, trying to extend your lifespan over the natural amount is so, so often the basis for the villain of the series to do attrocious acts. The more I think about it, the more it seems to me like, below all the flavour and differences of the main FF games, this is the core of them all - that you have to accept your death, or you will become a monster.
I hadn't really thought about it before, but you're right. Villains in RPGs are often power-hungry tyrants who just want to rule the world. FF games sometimes have antagonists like this - Brahne is a perfect example - but they get killed off in the first act to make way for the real villain, whose motivation is the fear of death. And that villain is usually also an evil version of the main character, so it's interesting that FFIX is the first (and only?) game in the series to connect those dots and have the main character literally confront death and triumph over it.

I had always thought of Necron as a final boss who just comes out of nowhere, a callback to Zeromus and Neo-Exdeath (albeit more obvious than those guys, whose names make them feel like "final forms" of Zemus and Exdeath even though they're technically their own entities), but he's got thematic resonance not just with FFIX, but the whole series, and as such is a fitting final boss of the series up to this point, right before it becomes radically different. So thank you for bringing this up and making me appreciate Necron as more than just a boss battle.

Outside the Iifa Tree, Zidane goes back inside, to find Kuja. He wants to save him, knowing that he could have done the same thing as Kuja, would he have been in his place. We get another nice FMV, before we reach Kuja, who is dying.

This very much reflects Brahnes dying scene. Kuja did horrible things. He is not forgiven, but he is shown kindness. Zidane knows, that it was Kuja who teleported them outside. One act of kindness, shortly before his death. Which does mean something. But certainly, Kuja is more than just the monster that initiated the death of so many people. Without defending his actions (which were horrible), he was a victim to other forces. And he is still someone, Zidane cares for. So Zidane shows kindness. Because no one else did. So that Kuja has one nice thing happening to him.
This part reminded me of the end of Blade Runner. I don't really have any other insight on it, just throwing that out there.

And for the last scene, we see "I Want to Be Your Canary", or at least how it ends, in Alexandria. Everyone is here, including a hooded actor, who reveals himself to be Zidane. He was gone for a year (I think), and when Garnet sees him, she jumps into his arms. It's probably relevant, that, while running, she drops her gem, but leaves it for now. Zidane is more important.
Zidane's last line as "Marcus" is, "Bring my beloved Dagger to me!" I'm not sure how well it's supported by the game, but I choose to believe this is the real line in the play, and the next scene is the one where he inadvertently kills Cornelia and then himself with that dagger, as seen in the intro, and Garnet was setting him up for it by choosing that name a year ago.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
So, FF IX. As mentioned at the start, this has been my favourite FF for many, many years, and after some time, I wondered if it would still hold the place, if I replayed it. Because it has been so, so long, since I did last time.

I'm not sure, if it is my favourite. By this point, I don't even like weighing games against each other, most have their place. Especially with replaying this series, I realized that they are all wonderful games. Sure, I like some more and some less, but I at least like them all. So, I'm not saying that this game is my favourite. But I do still love it, the cartoony world is still one I love exploring, the story is still fun to experience and has a lot to offer, and I still enjoy spending time with these characters.

As always, let me go through the characters, and how I enjoyed them:


Zidane

Virtue - You don't need a reason to help people

I always liked him, simply for the fact that he was a main character who was upbeat, always interested in helping others, and just being a (in most cases) good person. There is still much left of that, but also, I do think he is one of the weakest members of the cast. The good qualities are still there, and I love how he acts as a person that does good things, because he genuinely cares about other people, especially his friends. There is never a sense of wanting to get anything out of it, when he helps, for example, Vivi or Freya on their journeys. They are his friends, and he wants to see them happy. That's it.

But also, I just can't with the womanizer thing anymore. I'm just so tired of this trope. It was never something I cared for, having a guy who is totally into women, because that is so much not me, there is no connection, at all. So, even when I loved this game, I mentally skipped everything about that. By now, I consider stuff like this as toxic, especially if it is put into a character who is otherwise a really good dude. So, if he touches a woman in an unacceptable way, we can easily overlook it. That's aside from the problem, that stuff like this is often framed as a joke, which furthers the idea of "it's not so bad".

I still like Zidane, but I also feel that's part of the problem, and the whole thing makes me uncomfortable, when I think too much about it. It just colors his relationship with Garnet in such a weird, off-putting light. I do buy, that he helps her, because that is what he does. That he cares for her, as a person. But it also feels like he ALSO sees her as a thing to win over. Dunno, I do think that the story would have happened either way, that he would have done what he did in any case. But why include this romance than, anyway? I get that he is supposed to be a take on a classical character archetype (thanks Lokii, I still enjoyed your post a lot), but I also think that specific archetype is not necessarily something that has any need to stay. It might be me, but, as mentioned in my write-ups, the romance between Zidane and Garnet feels unnecessary and fake (again, the story would have happened anyway), and like it is just there, because a main character needs a romance.

Aside from that, he feels like a finished character, who already had his arc. He is confident and strong throughout most of the game, except for the part in Terra. And even if that part had been more extensive, I simply don't buy, that this hit him so hard. We learn way earlier, that he KNOWS Tantalus to be his home. He never, except for a single time, talks about remembering a blue light. There is not yearning for it, not longing for a home, no uncertainty about who he is.

I guess, he might have been influenced by the blue light, but that just makes the whole thing even more fake. Maybe the idea was, that when he is back, it seems like he can't shake off the control that Terra has over him completely, only to break through afterwards. But, again, nothing about this is anywhere else in the game. So, nothing new here, I agree with the general take that his arc comes out of nowhere. And that it has been done better by Vivi and Garnet (the whole thing about vaguely remembering the blue light seems related to Garnet only vaguely remembering an eye in the sky).

Sorry for the negativity here, especially considering that I do like Zidane, or at least parts of him. Him standing in for virtue is simply undermined by the way he thinks of women, which is a shame. The rest is already there, he never needs to develop this sense of helping others for the sake of it, and it never really stands in his way (at least, I don't think so).

All that said, I do like him as a secondary character for the rest of the team, giving them someone to help, be a rival, and simply grow from. He is a different person to every member of the cast, and can accomplish that very well, which really speaks to the richness of Zidane. He is, for example, a great big brother for Vivi and a very fun rival for Steiner.

His trance form speaks of his primal powers, showing him not fighting with weapons but magic, and not even wearing clothes anymore, fur being all he needs. One might interpret this as him showing his true form of being an alien creature, and accessing the true power he was given by Garland. And, with him not needing clothes or weapons anymore, he is shown as an all-the-more free spirit, who is not bound by anything.


Vivi

Sorrow - How do you prove that you exist? Maybe we don't exist

I'm not going to rank the characters in this game, because I really like this cast, and all of them have their strenghts. That said, Vivi is such a great character, and I love him dearly.

This starts by his design, taking the classical Black Mage, who always looked kind-of cute, and reinterpret him as this adorable child-sized version. And then, you get the stark contrast with the Black Waltzes, and then the other Black Mages, who are simply killing machines (until they aren't, of course).

Vivi has a beautiful arc, and I love how the game gives him a big brother, plus a kind-of surrogate family, to help him grow up. Because that is essentially what he does during the game. He starts as a child, knowing nearly nothing, not even about his amazingly strong powers. We even let him start by playing with another kid, before the seriousness of live truely strikes (that said, this probably happened when his grandfather died, but we learn that only later), and he has to use his power to actually kill others, just so his friends and family members can live. And he does fight against what could be interpreted as his awful, awful "real" family. The Black Waltzes are kind-of his siblings, but he never cares for them, because they never show him any kindness. Unlike Zidane, who always tries to protect him, Garnet, who motivates him (I love, how she cheers for him, during the Hunt Festival) and Steiner, who is a bit of a mentor when it comes to fighting (I really liked the scene, where they fought one of the Shrine Guardians, and Steiner not only explained him how they would get through, but also just didn't listen to "I can't do this" - he always trusted Vivi).

On his journey, he doesn't just grow stronger magically, but also explores his emotions. Including rage and anger, which the game clearly shows as not being bad things to have, but, if controlled, to be absolutely reasonable responses if people treat you horribly. The bit where Brahne dies, and all he can see is Garnet losing her mother, is a really strong scene, and shows us part of the complexity of this character.

As mentioned in my last post, we also see, even though Vivi is dead, how he developed his magic further, away from the destruction of live, to the creation of it, giving life to a bunch of new Vivis. So, maybe their is a bit of mirroring to FF IVs Rydia, who, while not starting out as a pure White Mage, loses all her light magic as the game goes on, probably because of all the pain she went through. And Vivi develops into the other direction, after not being forced into a war he never wanting to fight, but having to. When he is at peace, he can become an actual White Mage. If he can create live, he also can heal and revive, is all I'm saying here.

I think his Trance also mirrors this. Regularly, he might not be dressed in black, but in Trance, his clothes aren't just white, they are shining. They are full of bright light. This is his true form, a light mage, who can light up the darkness. Be it the darkness of death or pain, or the darkness of missing knowledge, because Vivi tackles hard, philosophical questions.

I know, the others are also shining, so it's not quite a fair interpretation. There is, of course, also the fact that his magic power increases, in some way. But that is boring and easy.

Sorrow is a good word for Vivi, and for describing his way through life. He has to go through a lot of pain, to arrive at a place of peace. It also shows, how one can go through it (and how one needs help for this), without becoming a monster. As mentioned a few times, this alone shows that he is so much stronger than someone like Kuja, who simply can't deal with his sorrow.


Steiner

Dilemma - Having sworn fealty, must I spend my life in servitude

Steiner is great. He provides comic relief, especially at the beginning and in contrast to Zidane. And here, the game clearly knows the problems with Steiner, with who he is at the start, and plays to this, giving him a nice arc. He is a bit of the classical hero, a knight on a journey to save the princess. And he starts as the archetypical knight, a guy who isn't particularly smart, who only has duty on his mind, and can do only one thing, but that really well. Then he goes on his quest, but learns that the bad guys aren't actually bad, and the good guys (mainly hes queen) aren't actually the good guys. For doing his duty, bringing back the princess, he is treated as a criminal.

I love, how the relationship between him and Zidane develops. Every time he calls Zidane by his real name, or tries to help him like in Pandemonium, it feels really good, because we see how much their bond, even compared to all the others, has developed.

He is never shown to be a bad person. The way he treats Vivi from the start helps a lot with humanizing him, and showing some competency, even when it comes to people. I feel like this is really important. Elsewise, you get a guy who is totally blockheaded and never treats the one he should protect as a person.

The one scene that stuck with me was, when he and Garnet are closer to home, and they look over their country, we see how much he loves it. It's not just the queen, not just the royal family - they just represent his country to him, so protecting them is the most important thing. Until he learns the truth. But the love for his country never goes away.

At the end, he is not only a competent fighter, but also got smarter and, as it should be, understands the world and its complexities better. I don't like, that he gives Beatrix an easy out at the very end, when she wants to leave. But I think it does speak to his improved emotional intelligence.

His Trance form shows him as what he is - a medieval truck. There is only metal, even his face is hidden behind a metal mask. I guess here my idea of Trance showing the true form of a person breaks down a bit already, because he is more than a fighting machine. But fighting is what he does best, so maybe this actually fits well enough.

Dilemma and the accompanying sentence fits well, and I don't think there is much to say about this, as it is just his arc.


Garnet

Devotion - Someday I will be queen, but I will always be myself

I enjoyed Garnet quite a lot. From the get-go, she isn't the regular princess. Or rather, she seems to be before the game, and only at the start of the game begins to break out of this role. There are classical qualities of a good princess, like being into science (I guess that's not necessarily a classical trait, but it fits this world well enough) and knowing how to speak with other royalty. But she also has a sharp mind, is quite smart and can deal with people like Steiner and Zidane.

Still, she fulfills the role of a princess way more than anything else, and has not much understanding of the outside world. So, there is a secondary arc to her, that brings her from a sheltered person, who knows stuff like ice and snow only out of books, and is fascinated by it, to not caring about a wall of living eyes. Which is a fun contrast to Zidane, who is weirded out by it. I think it speaks to the intellect of Garnet, that after some time, she simply understands that weird things, too, can be understood, and if it doesn't attack you, it's not a problem.

Her main arc is, of course, another one that is really interesting, with her going through phases of trying to get stronger and to learn stuff, only to be thrown back by traumatizing events. Honestly, she could very well be the protagonist of this game, too, her arc would fit that really well. Sure, you would need to write around the stuff that she is not Garlands favourite, but I don't think that is even such an important part. You could still go to Terra, fight Garland and later Kuja. I think due to her connection to Brahne and Alexandria, she might be an even better protagonist than Zidane, also due to her having an actually interesting arc.

For Garnet, the main part of the game has to be really brutal, with her seeing bad things happening, and everything she does seemingly making things just worse. No matter how hard she tries, and Kuja even tells her (and the others) nonsense like that, that they are at fault for what happens. Which is nonsense, Kuja (or more precisely the Terrans) are at fault. Her losing her voice is a bit of a thematic high point, in how the games story and systems interact here. I understand that it is frustrating, but that is the point. Garnet is weakened here, and needs the help of her family, who are helping her without complaint.

I do love her memory of an evil eye. It feels right, that a small child might interpret this part of the Invincible as an eye that shoots out an evil laser.

Devotion is, of course, a good word for her too. She is always devoted to her duty as a princess, and later queen, and as someone who is tasked with protecting her country. But she also tries more and more to be herself, and needs to find a balance between her role as queen and Garnet, even taking on a second name. Dagger is her as a person, somewhat free from duty and able to live a bit more carefree. And while we see her succeeding to some degree, she never quite does. The game shows her as a queen at the end, but also as a person who rushes into the arms of Zidane. Considering there is no final situation, how you always have to find a balance, I like how the game doesn't force her to take a side. I just shows, that she can deal with the complications of having to balance the two parts of her live, that she is responsible for.

There is also an arc of her changing from a pure white mage to a white mage / summoner hybrid, allowing her to actually fight for herself, giving her power beyond support. The game doesn't give us much here, but it is strongly connected with her getting more in tune with herself, and more self-assured. It's simple, but it is a nice development, making her stronger with more confidence, even in terms of gameplay.

Her trance outfit is stupid, but I like the idea of her being so connected to her summons, that they can just happen whenever they please, without her having to do anything more (at least he internet tells me, that this is what happens). Like you are always in connection with the Eidolons, these beings that are so important to a summoner. I like this idea, it fits her pretty well. She REALLY should have gotten her horn back, at least, though.


Quina

Indulgence - I do what I want! You have problem?!

I love Quina. Blue Magic is always fun and a bit more diverse and interesting than Black or White Magic, and them being there is just fun. Their design is glorious, and I guess we can just get to Trance here - their chef outfit becomes metallic, showing them becoming a fighting cook, and their face changes to black, like a black hole, sucking in everything there is. I feel like, it would be more fitting, if their ability would change to just "eat all the non-boss monsters, no matter how much health they have left". It certainly fits them.

And while Quina doesn't have much of an arc, I started to appreciate their philosophy more and more. They are never scared, they are never afraid, they are just who they are. There is no development here, if there was one, it already happened. And nothing can bring them down, even being chosen last. Their philosophy of life always seems to provide an answer, that leads to them getting something positive out of even negative things.

I would like to say more, but I don't think there is anything else? But that is by design, so it's ok.


Freya

Despair - To be forgotten is worse than death

My heart still goes out for Freya, and she is still, by far, my favourite dragoon. She certainly is one of my very favourite character designs in the series.

At the start, she is an archetypical dragoon, except for being a jerk. I mean, she can dish it out, if Zidane talks nonsense, but she is never mean like Kain or Cid. She is just this strong loner, who has lost her home, when the love of her life disappeared, and later on even forgot her. But there is a lot to love, even if her story seems full of despair. Similar to Garnet, she has to feel horrible, when Burmecia falls. In the end, it was an egoistic desicion to leave - not to say a wrong one, it's perfectly ok to travel the world for whatever reason. But to her, it clearly seems like she is part of the reason, why Burmecia fell. Especially when later, even though she is there, she can't defend Cleyra either.

But there are nice moments too, and I love the little arc she has with Amaranth. They really show their character, when meeting the first time, wanting to fight due to basically nothing. Because that is, what they are good at. But being so similar, strong loners, probably makes them understand each other better.

Being a dragoon, of course, fits her personality. Jump makes her invincible, sure, but it also means the others have to take more of the single attacks. And she can't help, while in the air. Funnily enough, her abilities speak a very different language, starting with a great support ability of giving everyone Regen. This clearly shows, that she never was that loner, but that she is actually a team player. Which fits very well, considering that she never really wanted to be alone, it was a bit forced onto her.

Her Trance speaks a bit against this. She basically becomes a dragon, as she flies and rains terror from above onto her enemies. I just like to imagine, that, truely, she is simply a dragon.

I already talked about the ending, and that I don't like how she seems to never getting over Fratley. conchobar brought very good points here, about there beign an intrinsic bond between them, that even lost memory can't break. But also, it makes Freya seem completely dependent on her partner, which is simply a bad sign, and makes her seem weaker than she is. I still would prefer her and Amaranth going on cool adventures together.

Eiko

Solitude - I don't wanna be alone anymore

I think, I like Eiko more and more, the more often I play the game. I mean, the start will never be her strong point, because being a jerk to Vivi (feeling like he has a smaller sister now) feels annoying, and I just can't with the whole jealousy / love-triangle nonsense that she has going on.

What I DO love, is the bond she develops with Garnet. They actually feel, like they are sisters at some point, sharing probably one of the most intimate moments of their lives, when summoning Alexander. They are the last two members of their race, and even though they have a connection to the Eidolons, their own connection is important, because no one else can truely understand what they went through. And also, what summoning, and the connections to Eidolons, means to them.

Also, her living with a bunch of Moogles is great.

I'm actually a bit at a loss of what else to say about her. The main point of interest is, to me, her relationship with Garnet, which forms nicely, and I enjoy how she later on becomes the princess of Lindblum, which also means a generation of peace between the two nations. This one, her being adopted by Cid and Hilda, did feel good, and like it fit. She couldn't go back, and needed parents, and the leaders of Lindblum seem like pretty nice people.

The main problem of her is, of course, being alone. But that is part of the story of everyone, and it resolves just by being in the party, and forming a bond with the others.

Her Trance isn't particularly interesting either. Like Vivi, she really shines, showing her to be a true Warrior of Light, and a healer at that. But there is really not much else there, aside from her being better at White Magic.


Amaranth

Arrogance - The only dependable thing about the future is uncertainty

And then, there is Amaranth. Who I really have nothing new to say about. His arc is weak, and could be made more interesting. Mainly, he shines in shorter scenes, where he can just be a snarky guy, playing a bit of the straight man to Zidanes "we are all freinds and help each other". Maybe straight man is the wrong word, because Zidane is right, but I like how he doesn't care too much about stuff like "how can we get kids up a giant tree". And then, there is the scene where he is telling Freya to be careful, showing that he has a bond with her.

He, too, is a loner, and still has abilities that are quite nice for a party. Uh...sorry, I'm not sure if I'm tired from writing, or if it's that there just isn't much to Amaranth, but I can't think of anything useful to say about him.


Kuja

My relationship to Kuja seem is a bit unclear.

On the one hand, he never struck me as the best FF villain. When I think of FF IX, I think more about Brahne, and the war on the Continent of Mist. About this beautiful world, with all its weird races, and the hints to a rich History. Of all the hidden treasures in the world, and the cheerful interpretations of Moogles and Chocobos. I probably think first of Chocobos Paradies, before I remember Terra. There is very interesting stuff there, in the main story, behind the stuff that happens in the forefront. But, as beautiful and conceptually interesting Terra is, Gaia is so much more full of color and flavor, there is just no comparison. And I think, my interest in Kuja is tied to that. Like, Brahne is fun as a villain, with a very unique design and her being so full of energy and emotion. Kuja feels too controled, in comparison, until he loses himself. He feels a bit flavorless, in comparison.

But I do think, there is still a lot there. He is melodramatic and dresses flamboyantly, like Kefka, and while the crazy spark of the mad clown is missing, he has a fitting, sad past, of never having anyone, a single person around him, who cared about him. It's not as intense as with FF VII, even though there are clear parallels between Sephiroth and Kuja, both of them being "unnatural" beings, made for specific goals by beings who are kind-of just awful fathers. Even if Garland is a horrible dad for other reasons than god-awful Hojo, both never experienced any kind of love. Uh, I think there is more relationship between the two, than I thought, just one minute ago. Especially considering, how they are both victims of the awful situation, they were born into. But that has been true for quite a while now, for all villains of the FF series since maybe VI. With Kefka, it's unclear, but he probably was a soldier, maybe even a general, in Gestahls army, and he just became crazy through the experiments. Still, even he grew up in a fascist nation.

I really like Kujas style, and I love how it is part of his personality. While you can clearly see, that he is a genome, if you know about them, he did color his hair, not to be recognized as one. Because he so desperately wanted to get away from his destiny, to be a free person, not chained to his job. But then, it was never about the job (he did enjoy that quite a lot), and more about a teenager not wanting to listen to his father, who might not have been physically abusive, but clearly emotionally. Because he, himself, didn't know any better, and I get the feeling this game is at least partly about awful family dynamics (which are also part of Garnets story, even if the way is very different). Like, Garland is a shitty father, because he never learned to be a father from his awful society, and the abuse is just thrown further down the chain.

Can we all agree, that Terra, as a society, is the worst?

Thinking about it, it is kind of funny, that both Kuja and Garnet, both having to deal with abusive parents, are the two people who change their hair in some way.

Also, he does work as a villain, in that he is just really despisable, but spices it up with his theatralic arrogance. He just wants so bad, to treat others as puppets, so he doesn't have to feel like a puppet himself, and because it's the only way he knows of, how to deal with other people.

All that said, there is still a lack of emotion from me, and I can't explain why. Like, the part where he bites his finger, before attacking Brahne should work. And it does in the sense, that watching Brahne panic looks amazing. But Kuja doesn't really elicite emotions from me there. I should hate him, but I don't, because I don't quite care enough about him. He feels kind-of forgettable, and I think part of that is him downplaying his emotions too much, hiding them all the time (which is, of course, due to him never having learned to deal with his emotions in a healthy way, from Garland, who doesn't know how to do this, either).

As an aside, maybe they realized the broken father-son theme here, and found it interesting enough to explore it more in FF X? Ideas always carry over between these games, I'm pretty sure by now.

But compare this with Kefka, who you can so easily hate, because he enjoys the carnage he creates so much. Or Ultimecia, who never holds back, about how much she despices humans. She doesn't appear often directly, but you can always feel her disgust, even when she controls Edea.

So, in conclusion, while Kuja doesn't work as a specific kind of villain for me, one I want to see destroyed (I only want him to stop doing the stuff he does), he is a very interesting character.

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There are more. I could at least write something about Brahne and Beatrix, but I think, especially with the latter one, I already put down everything during my writeups. They are both excellent antagonists, in any case. Or about Tantalus and Cid, and their role in this game. This game is just full of interesting characters and even whole races, but I already wrote way too much about the main characters alone.


The World

I love this world. I think, from the games I played (all except the second and third XIII game, and XV), this one feels probably the biggest. Maybe except for XII, but aside from that, it not only has the whole world to traverse freely, which you can't do in X and XIII, but you also have this big cities, which you can clearly feel to be even bigger (like, Lindblum is obviously HUGE). I mean, Palomporom (that was the name of the city in XIII, right?) is obviously massive, too, but as you aren't really able to explore it, the felt scale isn't the same. IX strikes a very good balance here, I think. The cities all feel like their own world, like they all could have easily had the depth of Midgar. Like, I could easily see the game letting you spend four or five hours in Lindblum or Treno, doing thieve stuff or something in different parts of the city, without it getting boring. All these cities have such a strong personality, it clearly shines through.

On the whole, I think the whole world is excellent, and maybe my favourite to explore. Which is partly, because of the excellent Chocobo Hot'n'Cold treasure hunt, but also just because it is such a welcoming world, despite the tragedies that happen. Even small things, that you might never experience, like the Ragtime Mouse or the Friendly Monsters, add so much flavour to this world.

Chocobos are at their absolute peak, with their own, delightful place. It's nearly, like the exist a bit on the side of all these stupid, "developed" races, with their wars, and their enslavement of Chocobos, or something, and just have this god(?) (what exactly is the Fat Chocobo? Did he create that place?) who said "Yeah, if you show your worth, you don't have to waste your time with these dipshits, just have fun in this magical place, where you can play in the water, all day long". I dunno, it's not like Chocobos seem really badly treated by people in general. It's just so delightfully weird.

Moogles, too, are my favourite interpretation here. I mean, that is actually a high bar, because the ones in VI are super-awesome too, and I love the guys in V. But especially the ones with special designs are super-adorable (with the others just being very adorable), and I feel like we get the most extensive interpretation of their culture. They are fairies, and they have a post office, and they have this popular guy who travels to the most dangerous of places. There is just so much personality to these creatures, I love them so much here.

My only nitpick is, that there isn't more direct stuff about the History here. I would really love to learn more about how the Continent of Mist developed, or that weird church in the middle of nowhere. This feels like the perfect game to have information like this hidden in bookcases. But, as I said, that is really just a nitpick.

Themes

So, the main theme here is, to me, clearly everything about the idea of a predetermined destiny, how people expect you to treat it like a thing, but that it isn't a thing, really. That it is just in our heads, but that it, for that reason, makes it way more powerful than it should be. Our society, some more then others, puts pressure on us to be a puppet, a character in a play, in some way. And we all play these roles, to a certain degree.

Most characters deal with this, in their own way. Zidane is basically supposed to be Goku, supposed to come to a different planet, kill the species there, so that his own can use the planet. And he finds an actual family, that really cares about him.

Garnet is supposed to be a "regular" human, and her actual inheritance is literally taken away from her, first in the form of her horn, than in the form of the gems inside her. So, this is actually the other way around, where her true family would have loved her as she was, and her surrogate family wants her to play a role that isn't hers. Except that it is way more complex and interesting, because here surrogate family, or at least her mother, was a good one in other regards, too. So she finds a way to balance these parts, plus the one that just wants to be free, out.

Similar things can be said about Vivi, of course, and Steiner, who stops being the literal robot that is only there to do a shallow version of doing his duty, to someone who cuts his strings, and starts to think for himself. In this case, the strings are kind-of self-imposed, so it is, again, a different take.

Eiko has just a small arc in that regard, in how she feels bound to a place where she is lonely, and decides to cut this string (that was probably never there, but it is very understandable, how she assumed it was).

And there are, of course, the antagonists, where all of the ones we see are used as puppets by semi-dead jerks.

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Aside from that, we also have the mentioned malfunctioning family dynamics with Zidane, Kuja and Garland, with Zidanes contrast, as he actually has a family that works really well for him in Tantalus. A family, that loves him for who he is.

There is also the queer reading of Garnet the summoner, or Dagger the commoner, and how she has to hide, especially at the beginning, part of what and who she ist (including a part of her body being force- and painfully taken away).

There is trying to see your antagonists for who they are. That it is perfectly right and important to stop their evil doing, but also that it is ok, to show them some humanity, at least in their last minutes. And that, no matter how inhumane someone behaves, there might be people who love them, for good reasons.

I'm sure there are others, that I'm forgetting at the moment. I might add something later, if I can think of more.

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Tetra Master

I had quite some fun with this. Tried it from time to time during the main story. Not often, but it was a nice diversion, from time to time. And then, at the end, I thought I'd try to get the highest number of points. And I actually got into it. After finding out, what the values meant, and what a pretty effective strategy looks like, it became pretty fun. I used a guide to find the players with specific cards.

A bit of explanation: The max score is 1700, I think. You get...let's say 1400, if you get one of every single card. There are 100 cards, and you can hold exactly 100. With a guide, that takes a bit of time, but as mentioned, I enjoyed the game, and watched something on Netflix on the side, so it was actually really enjoyable.

Then, you might remember that there are arrows on the cards. You get additional points, if a card has a unique combination of arrows. So, if you have two cards, one with no arrows and one with all eight, you get...let's say one additional point per card (two in this case). If both cards have all eight arrows, you only get one point. At first, I thought there were exactly 100 combinations, but than I did a bit of math and realized that there were way more (2^8, because each of the eight arrows can be there, or not, which should be 256). Quite some leeway, and if you make useful notes, it's not too hard to get 100 cards with 100 different combinations, and therefore 1500 points. Probably took me a few hours of watching Netflix. Was pretty fun.

And then, I stopped. whole card game is a really condensed version of a JRPG, that only consists of battles. Where you have an attack value, a physical defense value and a magical defense value, and depending on another value, you attack the physical or the magical defense. Because this is a minimalistic version of a JRPG, there is randomness involved (not quite as bad as people make it sound, but it's far from trivial). So, I actually like this, just for the idea of reducing this genre to its very core.

But it also means, that cards can level up. Randomly. All of their values. And after trying for half an hour or so, with no result for even one card, I stopped. Getting new cards was far, far less luck based, even the ones you needed. This here takes way, way too much luck. Not worth it. Even while watching Netflix, it felt physically painful.

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So, that's all I can think of, for now. Which seems enough, I think this is the longest final post I made, up to now. In summary, I still love this game, the world and its characters, and I will certainly come and visit again (even though I will play III again, first, which does have a similar vibe to it). For me, it's probably the one that IV is for many others, the one where I can just chill out and enjoy the ride through a wonderful anime world.

Next up is X, and I probably will play one or two other games, because I'm craving something lighter and shorter, for now. So, maybe in a month? We'll see.

But before that, I'm curious about something else, related. Should only be one post, probably during the next few days.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
Don't really have anything meaningful to add, I agree with you for the most part on each point (except Tetra Master… not a fan). But:

Steiner

Dilemma - Having sworn fealty, must I spend my life in servitude

[…]

Dilemma and the accompanying sentence fits well, and I don't think there is much to say about this, as it is just his arc.
I've always thought they got Steiner's quote wrong. "Dilemma" fits, but "Must I spend my life in servitude?" sounds like he's chafing against authority, or at least questioning his lot in life, and that isn't his inner conflict at all — Steiner happily follows his orders from Queen Brahne, and his dedication to them is what makes him vaguely antagonistic at the start; he also ends the game as a loyal subject of Garnet's. No, Steiner's conflict is questioning that fealty, when Brahne's orders conflict good sense, culminating in him realizing that he must not blindly follow what he's told, and instead to think for himself. His dilemma is more like (this isn't very artful) "Having sworn fealty, what if I made a mistake?"

So I've always wondered if this line was a mistranslation, a remnant from an early draft, or simply erroneous…

Chocobos are at their absolute peak, with their own, delightful place. It's nearly, like the exist a bit on the side of all these stupid, "developed" races, with their wars, and their enslavement of Chocobos, or something, and just have this god(?) (what exactly is the Fat Chocobo? Did he create that place?) who said "Yeah, if you show your worth, you don't have to waste your time with these dipshits, just have fun in this magical place, where you can play in the water, all day long". I dunno, it's not like Chocobos seem really badly treated by people in general. It's just so delightfully weird.
Man, I wish I got to see Chocobo's Paradise. It sounds real fun! Unfortunately, I did not have much luck with Hot 'n' Cold and just gave up after a while.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
I've always thought they got Steiner's quote wrong. "Dilemma" fits, but "Must I spend my life in servitude?" sounds like he's chafing against authority, or at least questioning his lot in life, and that isn't his inner conflict at all — Steiner happily follows his orders from Queen Brahne, and his dedication to them is what makes him vaguely antagonistic at the start; he also ends the game as a loyal subject of Garnet's. No, Steiner's conflict is questioning that fealty, when Brahne's orders conflict good sense, culminating in him realizing that he must not blindly follow what he's told, and instead to think for himself. His dilemma is more like (this isn't very artful) "Having sworn fealty, what if I made a mistake?"

So I've always wondered if this line was a mistranslation, a remnant from an early draft, or simply erroneous…
Very interesting thoughts, make a lot of sense, and completely escaped me. Thanks.

Considering that the translation feels pretty good, it mainly feels like a relict of an early draft. You probably could change Steiners arc easy enough, to someone who learns that serving a good leader (like Garnet would become) is a good thing. As always, I would love to learn more about the process of how the story developed.

Man, I wish I got to see Chocobo's Paradise. It sounds real fun! Unfortunately, I did not have much luck with Hot 'n' Cold and just gave up after a while.
Well, as fun as it is to visit, there is not much to do there. Just a few fun interactions, and it's just a neat place to see. But it's also very small. So you aren't missing that much. Being there as a Chocobo, though would be very neat.

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I watched The Spirits Within. Because I was curious, and even when I normally only do the main games, this one is only 1,5 hours, so why not add it into the project.

Well, because it's an action movie that lives mainly on its visuals. Which still seem nice to me. But I'm not into action movies (or movies in general), so every time I saw an action scene (of which there were more then enough), I got bored. I can't even tell you, if they are bad or good.

I mean, that is very Final Fantasy, isn't it? Having something visually stunning, that also contains a lot of action. Considering the roots of FF stories being Star Wars, it's even less of a surprise, that this is an action movie.

The themes are fine. We get the lifestream again, and have aliens that aren't evil, but scared. But there is no big Empire, there is no second antagonist behind this one, nothing about anyone trying to cheat death, no Chocobos. The whole thing plays on Earth, which on its own feels very un-FF to me. And, as much as i like the idea of Gaia in these games, we just had it in two games on the forefront. Which exhamined it better than this movie.

The characters didn't strike me as particularly interesting, either. We have some boring standard romance, an dude who is recognizable as evil as soon as he opens his mouth, the wise mentor, a nice group of people who will help along the way.

Dunno, I just wanted to at least write a bit, but I honestly don't have much to say. It feels like a spectacle first and foremost, with themes that were already explored in other games, and characters who don't even really have an arc. Maybe it's great as an action movie, or at least fine. But the stuff that I care for wasn't really interesting, or at least nothing jumped out to me.

Oh, I did like that they were collecting eight quasi-magical doodads. Very videogame-y.

A podcast compared the movie to Avatar, that big budget thing, in how that one, too, was mainly visually stunning, and lived on that alone. But that one also looked interesting, with a cool looking planet and bright colors. Here, neither Earth nor the other planet are interesting to look at, at all. There is basically no vegetation, no color, just metal, rock and brown earth. It looks good, but it also is boring as hell to look at. Maybe that's a reason why it didn't work.

So, anyone wants to share their opinions on that movie? Anyone who liked it, maybe? I would be curious.
 

nosimpleway

(he/him)
The Hype for Spirits Within is that after spending all that time and effort to make photorealistic people, Aki Ross was going to be the first in a generation of fully CGI actors, slotted into films and roles like living actors are.

Then the movie came out and it turns out the Uncanny Valley is a thing, and it's much easier to make photorealistic still images than it is to do photorealistic animation, and that's why Squeenix is a thing today.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
I knew a guy in high school who really liked Spirits Within. He also had never played a Final Fantasy game. I've always figured the two were related.

I've never seen Spirits Within (and don't really care to), but your thoughts match what I've always assumed: it's just a really boring, lifeless movie. Not so bad that it deserves to be a company-derailing trainwreck, but still not particularly good. It's just sad that it took Sakaguchi down with it.



Before the thread moves on entirely, I'm going to give my final thoughts on Final Fantasy IX. It was a lot of fun to revisit! It's been so long since I last played the game (nine years!) that it was practically a new experience: I remembered the broad strokes of the story, but few of the details, so much of it was fresh.

As I mentioned before, my main motivation for replaying was that I wanted to see what series references and in-jokes I could spot now that I have the rest of the series under my belt. Though, given the way the conversation goes online, I was honestly expecting IX's references to be name-dropping and surface-level iconography — a Kain's Lance here, a white mage robe there — and little more. So I was delighted to see it's much, much deeper. To be sure, there is plenty of name-dropping and surface-level iconography on display, and it's not even something I dislike (I liked seeing the airships visible on the overworld outside Dali, as it called to mind Cid's airship in II); but it's really interesting and exciting to see how IX lifts details, concepts and events from across the series. Because it rarely stops at the reference, instead finding ways to take the core concept and then remix or repurpose it to its own ends. It's been brought up in the thread already, but Cleyra is a great example of this in action: the events are essentially the same as IV's Damcyan (both feature the town being attacked by the villains shortly after the hero arrives, and both feature the party protecting a prince from an antlion), and it's got a nod to II as well with the town being protected by a cyclone, but the way they're mixed together, shuffled around and supplemented with new ideas make Cleyra to stand as its own thing and not just an elaborate homage. I think that's emblematic of the game, really: reverent of its roots but not beholden to them. It can be a difficult line to walk, but Final Fantasy IX has no trouble doing so.

(Sidebar: Necron is the exception to this, the only time where I think that familiarity with the series is crucial. Initially, and like so many others, I saw Necron's sudden appearance as a last-minute twist, or raising of the stakes, or something, and thought it was a misfire (especially given its just as sudden disappearance). With greater familiarity with the series, though, it's clear that Necron is actually a cosmological foe in the same vein as Cloud of Darkness, Zeromus and Neo-Exdeath, and becomes easy to appreciate in that light. Maybe I'm projecting, now, but I'd wager that Necron's reputation as random owes a lot to western audiences not having that familiarity (well, Zeromus was known, but not the other two). Probably didn't help that IX followed a trio of games where the utlimate antagonist was a "regular person", either.)

That aside, though, my biggest takeaway from Final Fantasy IX is that it's messy. When it's good, it's good, containing some of the very best writing the series has to offer. Vivi's arc, and the Black Mages in general, are genuinely moving and heart wrenching. The 'second-tier' party members, though unmistakably supporting characters, are much richer than is normally the case (I'm specifically thinking of Freya, Steiner, and even Quina, who ends up being more than just a joke character). And the worldbuilding, accomplished through so many little details, convincingly sells the idea that this is a living, breathing world that exists outside of the player's perspective. But equally, there is plenty that is decidedly lesser. Zidane, as I have gone into, is not a compelling lead to me at all — maybe even a drag on the game. Some of the party members feel underused (most obviously Amarant, but Eiko too). And the actual sequence of events is very clumsy, in the way the story awkwardly reconfigures itself to raise the stakes, or abruptly drops a plot thread, or abruptly picks up a plot thread, and the like. In general, I would say that the moment-to-moment writing is very strong, but the overarching narrative is weak.

I do like the game, don't get me wrong. As a general rule, I'm most receptive to character writing in RPGs, and that's where IX sings. But the awkwardness of the storytelling does keep me from well and truly loving it. If I had to rank it, I'd probably put it in the lower half of the series.

Oh, and one last thing…

Quina final assessment: Quina ended up being quite different than I had expected. In V and VII (the only two games I've used blue magic in), blue magic is essentially a way to destroy the game's balance: in V, Death Claw and Level 5 Death affect many bosses and give a quick victory; while in VII, Big Guard and White Wind simply give the party impervious defence. That's not how it works in IX. Here, there are no moves you can always count on to give you the advantage (to the point that V and VII's standbys are nerfed— not a single boss is vulnerable to Level 5 Death!); instead, blue magic is more like a box of tools to use for different situations. So, sad to say, Quina was not the MVP of the party. But they were a character that I'd turn to every now and then, and who always proved invaluable in those situations. Two examples that come to mind: surviving against Beatrix long enough to steal her items becomes significantly easier when protected by Mighty Guard, and Necron's otherwise-incapacitating Grand Cross attack is handily countered with Angel's Snack. So though Quina was not the overwhelming, dominant force I had hoped they would be, I'm still very glad I took the time to use them this time around.
 
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