Final Fantasy IX – Death Awaits All

FFIX-00119Now that this room is clear of its Liche problem, I should probably talk about That Other Thing. FFIX fans know what I’m getting at. This room is actually home to Steiner’s Actual Ultimate Weapon, but getting it is easily one of the most ridiculous challenges in Final Fantasy history. It’s actually so absurd that I get the impression that many players, Kyle included, simply don’t include it in their mental assessment of the genre’s worst challenges, since it’s just so wildly “out there!” You see, to get this final weapon (which is, of course, invisible like everything else in Memoria), you have to make all the way to this point in the game in under 12 hours. This is a simply unreasonable challenge, especially if you’re the kind of person who would actually want to do it, because if you’re the kind of person who would actually want to do it, you’re probably the kind of person who would get annoyed at missing other things and would go out of your way to make life worse by doing all sorts of other challenges! This, shall we say, “extended version” of the challenge basically requires you to skip cutscenes, which couldn’t be done on the PSX without opening the disc drive while it was still in operation!

If you do find the weapon, you discover it with a not from an “Enkido” to “Gil.” The weapon is the Excalibur II, and the note also contains a reference to the Excalipoor (Excalipur), so along with the mis-localized reference to Enkidu, you might deduce that “Gil” is Gilgamesh. As it happens, Gilgamesh is in the game, and we have met him: he’s four-armed Alleyway Jack from the start of the game, who never did anything of value at any point in the experience (his incredibly shitty card game tutorial might very well put him in the negatives), but still expected us to be intrigued by his mystery identity. You can learn it by gathering “treasures” (optional and often pointless items) from throughout the game, especially the Chocobo minigame, and if you get to the top of the “Treasure Hunter Rank,” he’ll tell you his name before vanishing. Enkidu, meanwhile, is only ever mentioned in this obscure note.

FFIX-00120After the fight, Zidane nearly falls into the abyss, but Garland encourages him to do a Last Crusade walk-of-faith into the stars and he begins to walk through space. The effect the game uses for this is to spin Zidane around while the stars go by. It looks exactly like it might if you watched his walk animation in a model viewer and then spun around, so suffice to say isn’t that impressive or eerie. Just as we were about done with this weird sequence, however, we got attacked by a Stilva that nearly killed us, since we hadn’t healed after the fight with Liche! We thought there wouldn’t be any enemies in space! I don’t think we can be blamed for assuming there wouldn’t be enemies in space!

Zidane once again asks Garland why he can remember other things, and Garland starts to babble about ancestral memory. Now, genetic memory is a real thing, but it’s not only is it not quite what it sounds like, but is also something we’ve only recently started to understand. What Garland is getting at is just a last-minute bit of fantasy theology, like the Lifestream or whatever the fuck was going on with Sorceresses and time in FFVIII. I’ve talked in the past about how it’s important for suspension of disbelief elements to appear earlier in the game rather than later, and suffice to say that the ass-end of the game is far, far too late for my liking. But that’s what’s going on! Zidane has multiple memories because he has ancestors that had those memories (while the Genomes are grown and genetically engineered to a degree, the game did establish that they get their original genes from the previous generation of genomes). And this all goes back to the original source of life at the dawn of the planet’s lifecycle. Of course it does, FFIX, I definitely have the patience to believe this!

FFIX-00122The origin of life on Gaia is, of course, a Crystal, and by walking back through ancestral memories, we’ve actually travelled through time to the birth of life on Gaia. Whatever, I’ve given up on being comfortable with this story. We headed into the crystalline world (naturally the theme here was a variant of “Prelude,” often used as a Crystal theme) to find the game’s final save point, but we weren’t about to go to the final boss battle! No, there was something we were going to backtrack to do – even though Marathon guidelines say we don’t have to!

You see, by going to the underwater room from earlier, it’s possible to find a secret passage behind a rock formation (coral?). There, a “Mysterious Voice” tells you to buzz off, but when you don’t, it’s bonus boss time, as you battle Hades atop a rock throne.

Hades would have been much easier to fight if we had made ourselves immune to Freeze and Mustard Bomb (which is the same defence ability, by the way), but we didn’t. We really should have checked ahead of time, like we did for the final boss. With everyone instantly dying all the time, his signature attack, Judgment Sword, wasn’t such a big deal. It was just the HP side of Heartless Angel, and what’s Heartless Angel without the power to reduce your MP to 1 alongside your HP? Hades’ big surprise was the ability to use a countdown to use either Curse or Doomsday. Curse would inflict a mass of status effects, not unlike a Malboro’s Bad Breath, while Doomsday does Dark damage to everyone in the fight, including himself, which he absorbs! Thankfully, he’s more or less helpless while using the countdown, and in our fight, he only ever started it once.

FFIX-00123During this fight, Kyle also started using Zidane’s Thievery ability. This was an attack that did damage based on how many times you successfully used Steal during the course of the game. This did around 4000 damage for us, which was only a little bit higher than his standard attack at the best of times, but couldn’t be reduced by status effects and debuffs!

Our rather swift defeat of Hades emphasizes one of this game’s mechanical problems: everyone’s HP is less than 56 000. Even Hades, even the final boss, and even Ozma. Yeah, they don’t even go up to the 32-bit ceiling of 65 535 for whatever reason! Quale and the friendly Yan do, so why not the others? And that would be fine if damage were appropriately scaled, but it’s not: your damage can still easily go up to the cap of 9999, like Zidane’s Trance abilities or Eiko’s Holy against Hades. That means the boss can take less than 6 hits! Under normal circumstances we were doing closer to 5000, but that’s still eleven hits, for final bosses and everything! I’d argue that the devs knew it, too, and it’s part of the reason Ozma is so luck-based. What’s the reason for this limitation? True, 65 535 is the 32-bit cap, but there are all sorts of ways to get around that, including the RPG standby of giving these major bosses some alternate forms. FFIX seems averse to alternate forms due to its memory and loading issues (the same issues that forced you to have only one enemy type in most encounters), but that’s a problem with models and textures. Why not a perfectly identical “form” as a means of giving them more HP? I can think of even more methods than that! The numbers problem isn’t even restricted to enemy HP, though it’s less serious on the player’s end, where it’s just sort of weird that Eiko and Garnet never need to cast anything stronger than Cura on your weaker party members, as I’ve already discussed. Any other game in the series would force at least Curaga, but nope!

FFIX-00124Anyways, as a reward for beating him, Hades actually offers you his serves as a synthesist! His primary appeal is that he’s the one who can make the Pumice/Levistone for the Ark summon (although again, since Ozma gives you the complete one, I’m not sure why we should care), but he also offers the Tin Armour, Steiner’s super armour… which we can’t make because it requires you to sacrifice the bonus ending-unlocking Hammer. He can even synth Beatrix’s Save the Queen, which is basically a gag since no one but her can equip it, though you can throw it if you want. We considered getting a Protect Ring here, but ultimately passed on it.

On the way back to the final save point, we fought a crystalline version of Liche – each of the Fiends can be refought in the Crystal World in a weaker form for plenty of AP, though 0 EXP. After that, it was finally time for the showdown with Kuja. Yup, definitely gonna fight Kuja! Nobody else we could possibly fight here! Kuja was getting ready to destroy the first Crystal and retcon an end to life, and he adds that there’s no point in stopping him, since the Iifa Tree is just about ready to subsume Gaia into Terra to begin with. Zidane argues that the people of Gaia will survive and repopulate the amalgam planet, so he’s going to stop Kuja here and now. But Kuja isn’t ready to fight. Or as Kyle put it: “Zidane, you will be my first sacrifice! …Now go fight Deathguise.”

FFIX-00125Yes, there’s one other boss before the fight with Kuja, and you even get to save after beating it! It’s time for a refight with Deathgaze (now “Deathguise,” which I actually prefer), bonus boss from FFVI. Deathguise has two “modes”: wings open and wings closed. While I panicked the first time I saw a form change and assumed it would be like the tutorial bosses of FFIV-VII, it was actually fine to attack the monster in either phase. “Wings open” just uses physical attacks, while “wings closed” tries yet again for instant death attacks (seeing a lot of that in this dungeon!), including Level 5 Death. Luckily we weren’t vulnerable to the latter, and despite the AI of previous games cheating to avoid Level spells when no one was applicable, Deathguise would waste its turns flinging the spell at us repeatedly!

I’ll admit, Deathguise did a number on us, maybe the biggest mess of the final boss set (even if you throw in Hades), but due to rarely attacking Eiko, we were always able to get back on our feet. Our party for this and the finale battles was Zidane, Freya, Vivi and Eiko, everyone capable of doing around 5000 damage or more using their best attacks (Thievery, Jump, Flare, and in the rare instances where Eiko even got to attack, Holy).

FFIX-00126After the fight, I left the room after going back to the save point, and Kyle spent the time unequipping irrelevant “Killer” abilities and things like AP and EXP gain abilities while he was at it. Unfortunately, the game’s final boss can cause so many status effects that it’s super-expensive to block them all, and Kyle ultimately didn’t try, though he took a few. That done, we returned to the dawn of creation to fight “Trance Kuja.” Unfortunately for Kuja, we entered the fight with three party members (everyone but Freya) ready to Trance back at him! It was uncanny, I really thought the game had rigged it to happen before I checked the recording! Kuja tried to hit us with high-powered spells, but with Zidane’s damage capped attacks, we probably couldn’t lose, but Kuja got lucky in that he didn’t trigger Vivi’s, then killed him to keep it that way, and killed Eiko not long after hers kicked in. Nevertheless, Trance Zidane’s Dyne’s are unstoppable, and we won with half the party still unconscious.

Zidane announced that he was going to go all out, and used Ultima to knock us out, just like he had on Terra. Kyle has stylistic complaints about this, feeling it would be cooler if Kuja only used Ultima here, making it as though it was a Trance power like one of Zidane’s Dynes! The party, including our reserves, were knocked out. At this point, we find ourselves in a new location (internally called the “Hill of Despair”). No explanation as to how we got here, or what happened to the original Crystal (although it’s probably fine). At this point, a voice starts to speak to Zidane, who manages to get to his feet. The voice starts to quote that line of Yoda’s from Phantom Menace that everyone quotes, and says it wasn’t to destroy everything. Who’s talking? Why, it’s one of the most famous “Space Fleas from Nowhere,” a term for an antagonist with no setup whatsoever! Final Fantasy did trend in this direction with some other examples, but there’s usually some mitigating factor that makes them less impactful than this guy. The Cloud of Darkness comes from nowhere, but you get an entire dungeon to acclimatize to it. The Arsenal from FFLII is from nowhere, but the conflict of FFLII’s final scene is the (purported) race against the clock rather than the final boss itself. But this… is Necron.

FFIX-00127Now, earlier I mentioned Clyde Mandelin’s research into this game, and the tweet I can’t find anymore, but I’ll try to summarize it. What is Necron? Apparently, the idea in the Japanese fandom is based on a different reading of the optional Eidolon Wall sequence I mentioned at the start of this disc, and yes, the fact that it’s optional doesn’t improve things in the slightest. The idea, in their eyes, is that Necron is an Eidolon born not of “legend,” because that’s not what the Eidolon Wall says in that version, but of human desire. Kuja’s extra-strong fear of death created an Eidolon that embodies the fear of death: Necron. Is that a satisfying explanation? Not really, but prepped by Mandelin’s explanation, I do see where they’re coming from. It’s a thematic climax rather than a physical one. I think a simpler explanation might be if Necron was wholly thematic rather than this partial, ill-explained slapdash. Make it Death Itself, an antithesis of the Crystal, a being born at the dawn of life ala Paradise Lost or Sandman. This was closer to the original plans where the final boss wasn’t Necron, but Hades, a God of Death (Hades was turned into a bonus boss at the last minute).

Zidane declares that he’s not afraid to die so long as he lives his life fully, as his genetic memory will pass on to others. Okay, 1) even at best, this is like what I once said in KH2: you’re giving me non-transferrable feelings about the current situation. “Don’t fear life and live your life to the fullest” is an Aesop in its own right, but “Don’t fear life and live your life to the fullest, because magic memories will help others remember you” is not applicable outside of this fantasy situation. And 2) I am positive that dead people in a world about to be annihilated aren’t going to be remembered by fucking anyone, so this doesn’t even make sense!

FFIX-00128Whatever, final boss time. You get to select a party of four (the game even lets Zidane leave if you want) and this seems to cause pre-arranged combinations of unused party members giving their energy to party members that they have a strong relationship with: Amarant to Freya (their relationship wasn’t that strong in our folder, but I see what they’re going for), Steiner to Vivi, Quina to Eiko (whom Quina helped cook that one time), and of course Garnet to Zidane. You get one last screen to change equipment, and the fight begins.

Necron can act multiple times a turn, but most of its spells are relatively weak as these things go. Like Hades, it has an attack (Blue Shockwave) that reduces you to 1 HP, but also just like Hades, this is harmless in the grand scheme of things. The real danger was Grand Cross, an attack that causes nearly every status effect in the game, including the instant death ones that we really, really should have turned on immunites for at this point, but we just didn’t know! On the flip side, Necron is actually weak to the incredibly easy to acquire Bird Killer ability, but we didn’t have that equipped, because why would we assume the final boss was weak to a start-of-game ability? Early on, we got Vivi’s Trance and were able to Dualcast a few Flares into Necron’s face, and Freya even got her own Trance towards the end of the fight, though it happened when she was on double digit HP and we worried about what would happen when she finally landed! Honestly, it wasn’t our best showing, but thanks especially to Phoenix, I don’t think Kyle was ever all that worried about losing outright. Necron can cast a few defensive spells, but here’s where Thievery starts to shine. In the fucking bag, let’s wrap this game up, eh?

Prev: Final Fantasy IX – Ghosts of Bosses Past
Next: Final Fantasy IX – If these shadows have offended, blame Steiner

3 comments

  1. Hades has extra dialogue if you defeat Ozma beforehand. The Friendly Yan does as well, now that I think about it. Also, poor Hades. All he wanted was to sleep, and some random group of nerds just shows up and roughs him up for his services.

    As an aside, Hades is the final boss of the recent expansion of Final Fantasy XIV that pays a lot of tribute to VIII and IX, and you fight him in an underwater location. He doesn’t synthesize anything for you after you beat him up, though.

    I do wish Trance Kuja had a bit more to him, admittedly. It’s nice that he’s using higher tier magic, but it’d be even better if he had some Trance exclusive spells. Maybe he just has a passive Trance power, like Steiner, that just buffs his magic or something?

    Also, Necron! He… exists. I guess. Why did he even need to be here?! I’ve seen the theory that he’s actually Soul Cage from before or something, but the idea of him being an Eidolon makes more sense. I think. Maybe a little bit.

    Four Fiends and Kuja rematches aside, I don’t really like Memoria! It gets too weird for my liking.

  2. Oh, that translation makes a little more sense than what I thought happened…I guess. I thought that Kuja’s last Ultima was aimed at the Crystal as much as at the party, and that THAT was why Necron showed up to be the end of all things.

    As out of nowhere as Necron is, I really do like the music and arena design. I wasn’t super impressed with Kuja as the ‘final’ fight up to that point from a style side of things – I’ve always found him sorta boring from a design view. (Mechanic-wise, he kept blasting me with Flare Star or whatever, so that seemed par for the course, if a tad boring.) Necron does sorta look like a Xeno- sort of boss mixed with a Digimon though.

    1. Not a bad interpretation! The game never does confirm what happened to the Crystal, but since the last thing we see of it is Kuja using his attack, assuming it was smashed makes a lot of sense! And if Zidane and friends saved the day by defeating Necron, maybe life went on without the Crystal? It could work!

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