The party went back to the Iifa Tree to wait for Kuja, and sure enough, he soon arrived, saying something about wanting to watch the fallout of his plan. After walking through a few familiar rooms from the dungeon, the party decided to climb the tree, even though only Zidane and Amarant could pull it off (god, where’s Freya when you need her?). There was a gag about Zidane trying to think through the problem only for Amarant to waltz off with Eiko and Vivi tucked under his arms, ultimately carrying them up the tree. Zidane did the same with Garnet, and they were soon within sight of the bad guy.
Eiko seems confused about the fact that most of the party can’t Summon, but continues the walk to her town, directing the party away from Sanctuary, which she identifies as “the Iifa tree” (is that pronounced “eye-fa”? “ee-fa”?). Now, out of all the somewhat-unusual place names in FFIX, Eiko’s hometown is one of the few with a real-world explanation. The game calls the place Madain Sari (you’ll recall the “Madain Ring”), and that’s basically just a transliteration of the real-world name for the ruins of Mada’in Saleh in Saudi Arabia. Account for the usual Japanese-to-English R-to-L swap (“Madain Sali”), and the names are nearly identical. It’s a bit like calling your RPG town “New Yorke,” except they’re ruins and that makes it classy. Eiko introduced us to her family, a group of Moogles (the wiki notes that despite this town being populated by Moogles, it’s the only town in the entire game without a Moogle save point, probably because it would be hard to tell the save Moogle apart from the others?). Mog arrives soon after, no worse for wear for Quina’s pursuit.
Eiko sets Zidane down for an interview, and it’s pretty clear from the off that she has a puppy crush on him. She decides to cook everyone dinner to impress him, leaving the rest of the party to explore the town. Vivi did not do so, since he was still having an existential crisis about the inevitability of death after his encounter with the Black Mage of Black Mage Village. Meanwhile, Zidane and Garnet found more and more clues implying that this was the village of the mysterious summoning tribe she had learned about from Doctor Tot. At one point in the search, Quina showed up and then plunged into a river and essentially left the party again. I’m used to it by now. Quina is less a regular party member and more a natural force that just sort of “happens” to us (and our enemies).
After our abbreviated Session 2, Session 3 was longer than usual, arguably putting us back where we might have been if we had had two “standard” sessions. It spans from our return to Qu’s Marsh all the way to the start of Disc 4, the final disc, specifically the moment we regained access to the overworld. I’m also going to share that, in the present day, Kyle and I have now beaten the game, so don’t be afraid of spoilers in your comments (spoilers for this game, I mean!). I’ll try to keep people abreast on this sort of thing. The next time it looks like Journals might catch up to the present day, you’ll see details like this mixed in.
The first thing we did in Session 3, after reuniting with Quina (who complained about us fucking abandoning them, which… you know… fair) and catching a handful of frogs, was to track down some Serpions in the nearby area to get Mighty Guard. And a good thing we did, too, or we might not have survived a certain challenge towards the end of the session! For that matter, do you have any idea how hard some sections of this game would be without Blue Magic healing spell White Wind? Not only are there long stretches with no White Mage whatsoever, but–
Zidane, Vivi and Garnet wake to find themselves in a mini-dungeon called Pinnacle Rock, where they’ve barely settled into the new status quo when none other than Ramuh shows up to greet them. Ramuh brings up the recent destruction of Cleyra, telling Dagger what her mother did, and raising the question of whether or not she’d be a good master for him and the other summons or someone as dangerous as her mother. Generous of him, but I guess this fits Ramuh’s role from FFVI to be the most cooperative of the summons (as opposed to his role as a wandering old man who assaulted people with lightning bolts for no reason from FFV, although I’m willing to see a return to that if FFXVI’s devs are open to suggestions!). He sets her a challenge: to assemble five parts of a “hero’s story” from the nearby dungeon by talking to visions of himself.
Back at the start of the Marathon, playtimes were a big deal. The Mega Man Marathon was, after all, a race against time, and some of its playtimes survive to this very day! You know! A Marathon! After that, however, we let the matter slide, and for the last ten, eleven years, it hasn’t been a very serious concern. Then, all of a sudden while writing the FFIX Journal, I started to wonder how the game’s playtime stood up to its fellows. We had done it in fewer sessions than before (albeit comparable to the Persona 2 games), and that made me wonder if it really was smaller than the others. The only way to find out would be to undo ten years of bad bookkeeping to find our old saves!