With Black Waltz 2 dead, Zidane told the others about the original Black Waltz and how it had openly tried to murder them. Steiner took advantage of this to claim Zidane was being dishonest, but the party comes to a surprising agreement when Zidane proposes they board the Cargo Ship anyways. Dagger asks Zidane why he changed his mind, but he doesn’t get to say why as the ship tries to take off without them, despite Steiner’s efforts. They rush to a rope ladder hanging from the ship, a scene which involves an infamous moment where Zidane cops a feel on Dagger’s ass in the middle of this emergency. Oh this guy is delightful.
Zidane explains his reasons for getting on the airship once he, Dagger and Vivi are alone. He’s not stupid (so long as you set that ass-grab he just did, which, among other problems, could have gotten him kicked off the ladder from a moderate height, out of reflex alone). He recognizes that Steiner is trying to con them, and so does Dagger. Zidane just figures they can commandeer the ship and take it to Lindblum anyways. But it turns out there’s a small problem: the ship isn’t being piloted by humans, but by a crew of seemingly-robotic Black Mage dolls. Since Steiner is even more surprised than Zidane, Zidane is able to get past him to capture the helm. Too bad it’s too late: the dolls all turn on Zidane like they’re about to attack him.
Zidane is only saved by the sudden arrival of Black Waltz 3, if you can call that “being saved.” Vivi rushes up to investigate this strange doppelganger, and the Waltz attacks him, only for the dolls to suddenly leave Zidane to defend Vivi! The Black Waltz insults the dolls and decides to wipe out the lot of them, including the ones in crates, which it does using a fire spell. Both Vivi and Steiner are furious about this: Vivi for obvious reasons, and Steiner out of that inner nobility that keeps struggling to get out. Indeed, when the Black Waltz muddies the question of whether or not he’s working with the dolls, Steiner says: “Even if they weren’t your allies, what you did was reprehensible!” See, my man Steiner here understands how fucked up it is to kill your own people!
Meanwhile on the bridge, Zidane tries to convince Dagger to pilot the ship while he fights the Waltz, even though he’s the only one with experience with this sort of thing, meaning she should be going instead of him! “Oh sure, abandon our White Mage,” I griped, which prompted Kyle to add: “Fricken Cecil.” He’s right, you know? Go drag all my complaints against FFIV on this issue back to the fore, how about?
Considering we just fought Waltz No. 2, No. 3 wasn’t much harder. On the up-side, Vivi starts this fight in Trance, infuriated by the deaths of the Black Mage dolls, and Waltz 3 won’t counter his spells. On the downside, we had no White Mage, and half-way through the fight, the Waltz starts flying, making them immune to everything but Black Magic and Sword Magic! Still, not that bad.
Unfortunately, Waltz 3 gets away alive… though for some reason the party starts talking about him like he’s dead? Zidane concludes he must be the last Waltz, since they’re called “waltzes.” I didn’t understand what he was saying! After Kyle not understanding hexadecimal, turnabout was fair play, so it was his turn to teach me something! It turns out that actual waltzes (the dance) only have three steps, so it makes sense that there would only be three “Waltzes.” Of course, the Waltz wasn’t dead, and as a matter of fact it manages to seize a smaller model of airship being flown by Zorn and Thorn, who are chasing you at a distance! This prompts a full CG sequence of the party in a cargo ship trying to outrun some kind of steampunk fighter craft as they try to get through a giant airship gate on the mountain border between Alexandria and Lindblum (Steiner is in no position to argue the choice of destination). Naturally they make it through, only for the Waltz to crash into the closing gate. Cliché Hollywood, but not badly executed.
I don’t have to say that this giant gate is preposterous, right? I already used the DM of the Rings “You can’t put a gate on a country” strip, right?
Since the Waltz had devastated the cargo ship, the party heads straight to Lindblum’s airship docks for repairs… or maybe to get off the thing and conveniently never return to clean up the mess. Whatever works! Once in Lindblum, Garnet puts on her airs and makes a formal request to speak to the city’s regent, attempting to identify herself as the real Princess Garnet with the help of a certain pendent. Unfortunately, the “Elite Guard” that work here has no idea how to identify foreign iconography (Ed. in a continent with only three major political entities!), and seem just about ready to toss the party out on their asses when one of them decides the pendent sort of looks like Linblumian iconography, so calls in someone else to double-check. Professionals. It turns out that the man they call in, Minister Artania, knows Garnet personally from when she used to live here as a child (news to us!), and he leads them straight into the castle for an audience with the regent. And who’s the regent but this game’s Cid, Cid Fabool IX! Or should that be Cid “Fabul” IX? It’s our first mis-localized reference to a previous Final Fantasy game, this one going back to the nation of Fabul in FFIV!
Of course, Kyle and I preferred to run off in all the wrong directions before we talk to any bloody kings offering us bloody sanctuary. One conversation we had along the way involved Zidane flirting with, but then striking out with, a young woman. “Zidane strikes out again,” Kyle said. He was right, but this prompted me to reply: “But you know? After Squall, his charisma is just through the roof. …I feel like he could sell me a bridge.” Kyle replied: “In a landlocked town.”
After clearing out the castle right in front of its guards (“Ah, done stealing our chests, sir? Very good”), we headed up to meet Cid Yang or whatever his name was. But there was a surprise for us: it seems that at some point earlier that year, Cid had been transformed into a large beetle-like creature native to the region, called an “oglop,” supposedly by a magical home invader! Just to rub things in, his wife Hilda was then “abducted.” I’m using scare quotes because it’s ultimately not true, but in FFIX’s defence, they tell a good lie. I wouldn’t normally spoil that they were lying if I the matter wasn’t cleared up in just a few minutes!
Garnet urges that she has to speak to Cid about Queen Brahne, but Cid puts it off until tomorrow for god knows what reason, giving Zidane an excuse to go back to his hometown to start some more shit. He visits a favourite pub of his and flirts with the waitress, promising her an airship ride, which sounds like an incidental bit of dialogue, but actually isn’t! The scene really starts moving once Zidane runs into a woman named Freya Crescent (not to be confused with Freyra/Shotgun from Before Crisis! This time, we can blame the similar names on Shotgun being named by a third party). Freya wears a giant Red Mage hat that covers her face, but under that you can see that she’s a beastwoman, complete with blue fur, snout, and Dragoon wings on said giant hat (Ed. I initially mistook her for a lizard-woman, but Session 2 includes people referring to her and her people via the pejorative “rats,” which suggests she’s mammalian). Considering she’s wearing two different class signifiers, I should probably clarify that she is in fact a Dragoon, not a Red Mage. In fact, I wonder why they gave her the Red Mage outfit, considering they were making such a referential game?
Speaking of Freya’s name, the HD remake likes to decorate the custom naming screen with a screenshot from one of the game’s CGs. Unfortunatly, Freya is apparently in so few pre-rendered CGs that all they could find for her was one of her face-down in the water on a dirty street (below). I haven’t seen that cutscene yet, but what a shame. Everyone else, even Vivi, gets dramatic or badass portraits, but you have to name Freya while staring at this game’s equivalent to her driver’s license photo.
Freya and Zidane are apparently childhood friends who met when they lived in another nearby country, Burmecia. Unfortunately, they haven’t seen one another in a really long time, and so don’t have much to say to one another. Freya is apparently in town for a certain “Festival of the Hunt,” but Zidane claims not to be interested. Zidane asks her something about whether or not she ever “found out anything about [her] boyfriend,” but neither of them clarify what he’s talking about. Their conversation is so awkward that it essentially stops dead and we cut to Garnet and Cid instead of wallowing in it. Also… I’m like 90% sure that Zidane grabs somebody’s backwash drink off the bar at one point during the scene. It sure as hell wasn’t served to him!
Back in the palace, Cid plays coy with Garnet for a while. This allows the game to feed us information about Garnet’s father: chiefly that he used to live in Lindblum as one of Cid’s advisors, and also that he has recently died. Long story short, Garnet suspects her mother is up to something bad, and Cid confirms that he knows all about it. As a matter of fact, he was the one who paid Tantalus to kidnap Garnet, hoping to get her out of danger before thing advanced to a state of war! Cid is confident that Alexandria can’t fight him so long as he controls his fleet of airships, but his recent transformation into an oglop is starting to cost him in more ways than one, and he’s slowly losing his advanced faculties. Not only does this bode poorly for the future, but it’s made it impossible for him to reproduce a recent invention of his: a steam engine powerful enough to run an airship without Mist. He built a prototype airship, the Hilda Garde, but it was stolen. It’s here where he reveals the truth of his transformation: he wasn’t the victim of a peculiar assassin/kidnapper, but was actually transformed by his wife, Queen Hilda, after she learned he was having an affair. She then ran off in the airship named after her, taking the only working example of the airship steam engine with her.
We returned to Zidane, who was realizing that he might have to part from Garnet at this stage, since his work with her was done. We cut forward to the next morning, when he makes up his mind to visit Tantalus HQ to decide what to do with himself, maybe to even rejoin the organization. He tries to coax Vivi into coming with him to join his criminal friends, but Vivi isn’t going for it. With Steiner already off on his own, this leaves Zidane alone when Kyle and I decided to go shopping, much to our annoyance. This was also our first experience with FFIX’s Synthesis Shop, which combines items and money to create new items, complete with new skills and the rest, all of which we had to buy with no party members to compare to! Dammit!
Lindblum’s a big town, divided into separate districts that are only connected via its monorail system. It took a while to explore, but other than the introduction of the Synthesis Shop, there isn’t much to say about it until you finally visit the Theatre District to find Tantalus HQ. There, Zidane wasted some time reminiscing, and also we robbed the place blind. That’s how you quit a job, folks! Our haul included a “Mini-Burmecia,” a Key Item which was apparently part of a triptych. Presumably it would be combined with depictions of Alexandria and Lindblum once it’s completed. While we were in the HQ, two kids showed up and encouraged Zidane to go visit Garnet after all, so he decided to do so.
Before we left the theatre district, we ran into a group of women belonging to a certain actor’s fan club. This was Lowell Bridges, or as I like to call him, “Original Genesis.” Oh sure, he and Genesis from Crisis Core have nothing in common but plays and fan clubs, it’s just funny to me to imagine Genesis trying to escape his fanclub in a giant Moogle suit. We followed Original Genesis as he escaped his fans and went to hide in a nearby painter’s house. He and the painter were apparently begrudging friends, and we learned the painter was part of some other contest that I’m sure is due to show up in the plot later down the road. While we were here, we stole Original Genesis’ fursuit. No, no it does not appear to “do” anything.
Unfortunately, when we went back to Lindblum Castle, the guards refused to let Zidane inside. I kept shouting at him to wear the fursuit (it would be a reference to FFV!), but it turns out the game actually wanted to make a reference to FFVI by having you mug a guard to steal his uniform. Except, you know, this time these people are allies. …Comedy!
Zidane found Garnet at the top of the tower, singing a song she said she only knows from a vague childhood memory. The two of them took a break to check out a nearby telescope, which we could use to learn some local landmarks / future dungeons, after which they get to talking about Tantalus’ original abduction plans, for some reason. I guess we’re kind of overdue on this discussion, but this segue doesn’t really make sense even if you assume Garnet is already planning what she’s… well, there’s no way to put it without spoilers, so I’ll just say “what she’s about to do in a few scenes.” Oh, and also that she already knows what Tantalus’ plan was (via Cid?) and is just bluffing as a means to transition to the subject she’s really trying to discuss, which makes this theory more and more strained. I think it’s probably better to just chalk this up as an arbitrary transition. Long story short, Tantalus’ original plan was to drug Garnet with “sleeping weed,” insert joke here. Saying she’s having trouble sleeping, Garnet asks for some of the sleeping weed, and while Zidane doesn’t seem to give her any on-camera, she has some later in the plot one way or another, and claims she got it from him? Very oddly done. By the way, in what must be the most explicit and deliberate sexual comment in the series since a snake climbed into bed and offered to see Firion’s snake, Zidane suggests that all she needs to get to sleep is some company. Wow. This goes over about as poorly as you’d imagine.
At this point, we have four cutaways to Steiner, Vivi, Freya, and Cid respectively. Steiner and Vivi’s cutaways serve the same purpose: to all-but-openly imply that Alexandria is already at war around the world. Cid’s scene just repeats what we’ve already learned about him not being able to duplicate his steam engine – frankly, it seems the least necessary of the set. Freya’s scene is the only one with entirely new information. It opens with her showing that same reckless disregard for verticality that Kyle loves from his Dragoons, as she hops some otherwise suicidal jumps around town, saying something about a “Sir Fratley,” possibly the “boyfriend” Zidane mentioned earlier, but I’m prepared to be proven wrong.
Returning to Zidane and Garnet, Zidane shoots himself in the foot with a cannon by “reminding” Garnet about “their” airship date, aka the pickup line he used on the waitress the other night. Garnet realizes what’s going on and makes him feel it, the prat, but he tries to recover by asking her on a different sort of date. He happens to do this while almost stumbling off the edge of a high wall, which Kyle called “pulling a Seto Kaiba,” after that time in Yu-gi-oh! where Kaiba blackmailed the hero to forfeiting a game by standing on a high ledge and threatening to fall off a cliff, one of the series many disproportionate moments. Thankfully Zidane wasn’t actually going to try that bullshit. Garnet agreed to his proposal: if Zidane wins the Festival of the Hunt, they’ll go on a date. This isn’t actually going to happen (Kyle laughed at the idea of Zidane “actually getting a date”), but it’s our setup for the next bit of gameplay: the Festival itself.
The Festival of the Hunt is something of a minigame, but one that includes standard combats. Zidane, Freya, and even Vivi participate, each hedging for a different prize (more on that later), but you only control Zidane. Zidane starts in one district of town and you have to run him through it, fighting monsters as you go. Each monster returns a certain amount of points based on its danger level, slightly randomized from a base. Or… you could just not bother! The other hunters in the contest have randomized results, but unless they win a serious lottery (some sources I’ve read online imply this isn’t even possible), the end result is always going to come down to the midboss at the end of the course, a monster called a Zaghnol. Freya joins you for the fight against the Zaghnol as controllable party member. Whoever lands the killing blow on the monster gets the points and almost certainly wins the contest. As a result, the festival really just comes down to the following. If you don’t complete the midboss fight (including never reaching it at all or dying before you get there), Freya wins, because she always gets more points than Vivi and will certainly get more than Zidane had without the Zaghnol to help him. If Zidane lands the killing blow on the midboss, he wins. If Freya lands it, she wins again. And if you get to the boss and both Zidane and Freya die, they’ll both be disqualified and Vivi will win.
Since Freya is obviously a future party member, the party ends up with the prize no matter who wins the contest. From a meta perspective, it just comes down to which prize you want. Zidane wants cash for some godforsaken reason, arguably the worst prize of the set. Freya wants an accessory, which is arguably the best prize. Lastly, Vivi wants a rare (but not exclusive) Tetra Master card, which is still useless but at least I can see where he and the devs were going with it. We wanted the accessory, and got it after the Zaghnol killed Zidane at a point after Zidane made his first Steal. There’s an Achievement for letting Vivi win, since the method for getting Vivi to win is so counter-intuitive. We intended to leave a separate save file aside to earn the achievement, but it slipped our minds after the game threw us into a cutscene after the boss, and we accidentally saved over the old file. Oh well.
As for Freya as a playable character, she has the classic Dragoon Jump attack, like you’d expect. Her Trance causes her Jump to upgrade in such a fashion that she ends up in a continual Jump state, doing a group attack every single round until her Trance bar expires, which seems to take longer than with other characters!
After the festival, Freya was given her prizes just in time to see a messenger arrive from her native Burmecia to announce that Black Mages were attacking. The messenger then dropped dead on the spot. Crap’s sake, was no one willing to look at this man’s wound while someone else passes on his message to the king? Suffice to say, Freya didn’t take this well. Cid promised to send reinforcements to Burmecia, but it would take at least a day (generous) and even that would force them to take their spies off the border with Alexandria. Freya angled to leave on the spot, and Zidane promised to go with her, even though it took some wrangling. Vivi wanted to go too, still pondering the mystery of his relationship to the Black Mage dolls, but when Garnet tried to join them, Steiner started to raise objections. To everyone’s surprise, Zidane agreed with Steiner! Zidane’s logic was that she could easily be killed in war, and that she isn’t acclimatized to the idea of death, apparently. Zidane, you Cecil Harvying jackass, you’re never going to convince a WHITE MAGE to leave a group by telling her “boy, a lot of people are going to die there!”
Cid interrupted, trying to convince everyone to come to a feast while “the gate opened.” What, is opening a gate really going to take that long? I understand it was probably closed to keep the monsters from the Hunt inside the town, but we saw a gate open during the Hunt and it took a matter of seconds, so what’s your scam? Jokes aside, Cid doesn’t have a scam, but Garnet does: she laces everyone else’s food with sleep weed so that she can leave whether they want her to or not. The only exception is Steiner, since she’s apparently confident that she can win him over into leaving the castle with her, and does so. At this point, we’re left with Zidane, Vivi and Freya, and directions to go to a place called Gizamaluke’s Grotto to reach Burmecia. This is where we stopped our first session for the night.