Zidane, Steiner, Vivi and Garnet are thrown from the airship during the crash, and while Zidane returns to the crash site in safety, Garnet is nowhere to be found. Just as Zidane arrives, we’re introduced to one of FFIX’s weirder features: Active Time Events, or as they’re more commonly known, “ATEs.” As in… the word “ate” in capital letters, throwing me off every single time it appears. It’s honestly even worse than “GF” was in FFVIII, probably because it’s full word. ATEs are optional vignettes you can view by pressing Select when prompted by the game. Kyle described them as “stuff that happens when you’re not around” (not unlike KHDDD’s “Flashbacks”), but I don’t know if I agree with him. Sure, he’s right… but FFIX hasn’t been afraid to hop between characters up to this point, so why stop now? Maybe the ATEs are a sort of semi-deleted scene: scenes that would have disrupted the pacing, but they didn’t want to get rid of them for good, so the game asks if you want to disrupt the pacing manually, instead?
There’s an Achievement tied to watching all of the ATEs, and it’s very rarely earned, since a handful of the ATEs are apparently very easy to overlook. Since looking at a guide would mean risking narrative spoilers, Kyle and I agreed to just accept that we’ll miss the Achievement this time around, and that I’ll get it again on some subsequent playthrough, if ever. I suppose Kyle could have kept his eye on a guide since he’s played FFIX before, but eh, I don’t mind. In any event, since ATEs are optional scenes and were probably made optional for a reason, I don’t expect that I’ll mention them very often, for summation’s sake.
At this point, we went back to the alley and found Rat Boy still in the next room, still waiting for us, with a ladder three times his size held over his head. No big deal. He led us to a steeple with aim to get onto the city’s rooftops (at one point this involves him climbing another ladder with the original ladder still in his hands??), but we were interrupted by the arrival of a Moogle. For those of you keeping track at home, it’s been a while since we’ve seen Moogles in Final Fantasy. They were in VI, but there weren’t any (non-robot) Moogles in FFVII or any of its spinoffs, they weren’t in Tactics, and “MiniMog” from FFVIII only shows up via Chocobo World and cameos!
Final Fantasy IX: The Last Marathon Game of the Old Millennium. Or at least that’s the case in Japan and North America, where it launched in 2000. In Europe it didn’t land until 2001, making it also the firstMarathon game of the New Millennium. FFIX can have it all!
FFIX was also the last of the Final Fantasy PSX Golden Age, and also the last conceived by series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. Granted, Sakaguchi hadn’t been Director since FFV (setting aside The Spirits Within, since film and game “directors” are very different roles), being Producer ever since. He would even continue to serve as Producer or even Executive Producer through FFXII. But in practice, fans could tell that FFIX was different. FFIX is pretty open in how it salutes the older games in the series, and it’s often considered the last old school mainline Final Fantasy to boot. A lot of old concepts are back, and a lot of concepts (long-present or previously-absent) have yet to return at least not to the main series. This might get a little sniffly before we’re done.
Floor four brought us into Baofu’s past. While not immediately evident (it wouldn’t be until the epilogue), we were in a graveyard, where an evil version of Baofu’s starter Persona was strangling his late romantic and professional partner, Miki, to death against a tree. Thankfully, this was metaphorical rather than a flashback: it seems (and this scene would have been way better if we had learned this earlier) that Baofu blames himself and his Persona (as an extension of himself) for Miki’s death at the hands of Yung Pao, and we were seeing a visualization of that guilt next to her very grave.
The decision branches we have left in the plot all feature a common theme: stop your party member from being angry or seeking vengeance. Two of Nyarlathotep’s three poisons, remember? This partially factored into Katsuya’s decision point (although it isn’t evident from the dialogue options, which might be a translation issue) but didn’t factor into Ulala’s at all. Still, it is what the game’s going for, and it will confirm as much if you get them all right, with Ulala explicitly complaining about it after the sixth floor. Ulala’s complaints aside, I’m not sure I’m exactly happy with Persona on this. It’s a very “anger is evil” attitude and that’s stupid and dangerous. Anger is an emotion same as any other, one that has to be understood and not shamed into fucking repression. This is so stupid and dangerous that even, god help me, Final Fantasy Unlimited Season Fucking 2 agrees with me. And if you’re dumber than FFU, with only a token line from the career complainer (Ulala) to suggest you intended to say otherwise, then you’re in a ditch, my friend.
Chapter 24 begins with a shot of each of the Turks in a stylish, collage CG – including Legend, which may cnfirm that his bonus episode was out by now. Also, this CG must play even if you haven’t unlocked him, right? I can’t imagine this early cell phone game going to the trouble of loading two full-screen CGs!
The game recaps the events of Chapter 23, and we pick up on the highway. Reno and Rude aren’t able to believe that Tseng shot the boss, and refuse to get on the truck with him as he rides with the bodies. The two are left behind, despite Tseng repeatedly nudging them to follow and so learn the truth of his deception.
We went to Tatsusozou’s new home, Sumaru Castle, and discovered there was only a single room inside at ground level. There, two Wang Long statues literally spoke to us, finally giving us some insight into the term “Kotodama” (you’ll remember that the game started acting like we already knew what this was basically at the game’s 10% mark and never let up until right now at the 90% mark). It turns out Kotodama is just a kind of prayer, or possibly a mantra. The statues tasked us to use a series of teleporters, arranged like the Big Dipper, to learn a kotodama that would presumably unlock our way into the castle via an eighth teleporter. The Ursa Major rooms were all designed in a different fashion, but in a weird, last-minute sort of way that gave them either half-baked ideas (a maze with teleporters! Yes! Two whole teleporters!) or just plain short (one of them literally just has you walk up some stairs and then out). Probably the only notable thing that happened to us here was that I was walking back towards town to heal at one point, only to step on a teleporter by accident… where I discovered the gimmick was “you get the kotodama for free but the exit portal is lost.” And fuck you too, gods of coincidence!