Final Fantasy IX – If these shadows have offended, blame Steiner

The party teleports away at the last minute, as things collapse back on the Hill of Despair (more on that later), and finds themselves back outside the Iifa Tree in the present, the tree’s roots starting to move like tentacles as they began the process of destroying Gaia, or whatever would happen after the destruction of Terra. Luckily for the party, Mikoto was on board the Red Rose with Beatrix and was able to sense Zidane telepathically, and they sent a message to Cid to pick up the party. But at the last second, a psychic voice reached out to Zidane. I originally assumed this was Garland, but no, it was Kuja, who was still alive. Zidane wanted to rescue or at least go to him, saying that, “Because I might’ve done the same thing if I were in his shoes.” Okay, like, I sympathize? But also don’t agree in the slightest. But whatever, he’s doing it anyways, and to my absolute annoyance, he reneged on his life lesson from Disc 3 and decided to ditch everyone to go in alone. I really expected them to turn him around on it, but Amarant just gave up and everyone ultimately followed his lead, even Garnet, who had the longest farewell speech. Extremely disappointed at this reversal.

After the others were gone, Zidane began his approach. This was shot in a very peculiar manner, with a pre-rendered CG in the background, depicting the Iifa tree nigh-attacking him with its roots, but with Zidane’s in-game model running around on top of the pre-rendered CG in what I can only assume is real-time. I’m not sure why they did this, though I imagine it was budgetary. On the PSX, this looks a little janky but not ultimately that bad. In the HD remake, with the now out-of-date prerendered cutscene in the background and the HD Zidane in the foreground, it looks like absolute crap. Long story short, Zidane finds Kuja, including an unintentionally silly bit where he spots him, time momentarily freezes, and he falls past.

Kuja is wounded on a small platform near the Iifa tree’s trunk, and Zidane, realizing Kuja’s built-in time limit is up, decides to sit with him as he passes on. Zidane explains that Kuja teleported them away from the collapse after Necron’s death. The two talk about life and death briefly, but don’t have much time before vines and roots seize in on them and the scene fades to black.

After this, the epilogue begins, first with a brief speech from Mikoto, who now feels Kuja’s rebellion gave the Genomes “hope.” Yeah, whatever you say, lady. Hey, remember Mikoto? She embodies some of the final arc’s major themes! And she wasn’t in it!

We jump forward multiple years to Alexandria, where we see Puck. Hey again, remember Puck? He had this big plot role involving Sir Fratley, and we weren’t even sure if he was alive after the destruction of Cleyra, but apparently he was? Puck crashes into what looks to be Vivi, but “Vivi” shows no signs of knowing him. After a moment of confused conversation, the Black Mage explains that he’s Vivi’s “son,” and one of several. This is never explained. The Mist is gone and yet there are new Black Mages. Did they expand their lifespan? Did the Genomes help out somehow? Who knows! You get jack.

Just then, a written narration begins, which will pop up between scenes. This narration talks about Zidane as passed away, but it’s not clear who’s speaking… in English. In Japanese, it’s obvious that the writer is Vivi, as with Brahne’s death scene, and I’m annoyed that the localizers didn’t do anything to address this. At the time I wondered if maybe it was Garnet, or maybe a continuation of Mikoto’s speech from before the time skip, but nah, decisively Vivi! We were so confused we actually went to look it up! But more on that as we go.

Every scene in the opening parts of the epilogue involve the party members travelling to Alexandria to see a performance of “I Want to Be Your Canary,” so I’ll crop the details of that to address other notable things. Freya is back in a romantic relationship with Fratley, but it’s a new relationship, as he never recovered his memory. Beatrix surrenders the Save the Queen in Garnet’s empty room, acting as though she’s leaving the job, though she never specifies why (is she about to be dragged to The Hague on genocide charges? Because I am not letting that go). Amarant says hello to Lani, who starts stammering like a tsundere about to make a confession. “I-I never said I wasn’t going to the play, baka!” And that’s the scene! Amarant doesn’t really get his own epilogue! It’s just… “Hey, remember Lani?”

In fact, I’d might as well get to one of our major complaints: dropped plot threads. Hey, remember Tot? He’s not even in the ending! Hey, remember when Brahne changed suddenly on Garnet’s birthday and a play they went to and it was all mysterious? Never addressed! Remember Kuja’s quasi-romantic, quasi-theatrical obsession with Garnet, but then he became 100% obsessed with Zidane instead? What about Mist disappearing and that being bad for some reason, remember that? Remember Vivi being sold a fraudulent ticket at the very beginning of the game? (Actually, dummied text touches on that one, blaming a “Moogle in a hat,” possibly Stiltzkin) Vivi’s children, the recurring harp motif, the four sacrifices, what happened? We saw this same abandonment of plotlines in FFT, but FFIX does it in a different fashion. Kyle isn’t fond of the game’s Cerebus twist from comedy into drama, though I like it, but we both agree that, during the last part of Disc 3 and the entirety of Disc 4, the game became about something else entirely somehow, and as we’ve already complained, they torqued Zidane to put him at the centre of it and to pretend it was all relevant to us, while discarding not only whatever Zidane was previously doing, but apparently everyone else, including most of the party! All that really matters anymore is their relationship to Zidane!

Ed: I originally included two more complaints in the above paragraph, but reader DannyB told me I had just missed the content! Quan being a “bigot” is explained in a hidden scene with Quale, and Ruby and her theatre are at least partially a part of the Mognet sidequest. So good for those!

Anyways, Quina is back at work as a cook in Alexandria; Eiko has been adopted by Cid and Hilda (I expected Tot to adopt her!); Steiner intercepts Beatrix like Axel from KH2, and finally makes a confession to her, convincing her to stay, you get the idea. Meanwhile, Vivi talks about living life to the fullest because it’s so finite, and thanks Zidane for giving him good advice. Vivi then implies, as is suggested by his absence from these scenes, that he has already, tragically passed away before everyone could have this reunion. It’s heartbreaking, and most English players will never realize what happened!

We finally see Garnet, who talks about how she’ll be happy to see everyone even though things won’t be the same without Zidane and Vivi. At this point, we get to watch “I Want to be Your Canary” in full, thanks in part to our having the Hammer item… or at least I guess it’s in full, given that Baku once again summarizes a huge span of opening plot, as if they were performing an abridgement. In any event, I’m surprised to find that I actually really like it? It’s an incredibly on-mark Shakespeare homage, either because the localizers made it that way or because it was originally written as one in Japanese. Ruby plays Cornelia, who appears in the very first scene and raises the question of how Garnet was able to pass off as her earlier in the game, and Marcus plays – erm… Marcus. Rremember, the troupe are named after roles in the play, and it seems they play them, too! Marcus is also constantly wrapped in an Organization XIII coat for some reason. Not suspicious in the slightest!

The gist of the plot is that Cornelia and Marcus are in love, but Cornelia is a princess. She’s willing to abandon her station to marry him, especially since her father wants her to marry Prince Schneider, who will just enslave her as his wife. But there’s a problem in that the political marriage will also save hundreds of lives by putting off a war. Cornelia has made up her mind (including a title drop), and Marcus agrees to meet her the next night to elope, dropping the incredibly clever, English-only reference line, “Neither squall nor cloud will hinder us!” Marcus leaves.

At this point, the character of Blank steps up, and goes all “Blame yourself or God” with Cornelia with a gut punch and kidnapping (Kyle called this “pulling a Double Dragon” and with this industry, we could sadly keep coming up with analogues all day).

This is followed by the hammer-exclusive scene. This is an odd scene, as the implication is that you’ve recovered Cinna’s hammer… even though it shows up before the play begins? But it’s missing later? And Cinna isn’t even in the scene in question? Ugh, anyways. King Leo (Baku) ends up talking to Blank, who implies that he’s hidden Cornelia away to ensure the political marriage, but Leo interprets this as Blank helping Cornelia escape in her own right. Leo is so furious that he kills Blank without asking where his daughter can be found. That’s it. That’s the bonus scene. It at least fills out the plot, and it’s extremely Shakespeare, but why did they decide to make it a bonus scene?

At the docks, Marcus waits for Cornelia to come, unsure about what to do. The character of Cinna shows up and outlines the dilemma: leave on his own and allow the political marriage to presumably go through, or stay and raise some kind of ruckus trying to get his own way. The sun rises, and Marcus remarks: “So, the sun is our enemy, too.” Get it? It’s about having a limited amount of time in your life? Marcus ponders if Cornelia betrayed him, but insists that Cornelia will “appear if only I believe!” And then… as you may have already guessed, because where else could this be heading… he dramatically whips off his cloak, revealing that he’s actually Zidane, and changes the line from the play to say: “Bring my beloved Dagger to me!”

Garnet is momentarily in shock, but then runs to the door, only for Steiner and Beatrix to block the way? At first I figured the party had some other scheme in mind to get her to Zidane or Zidane to her, but no, they’re just… fucking with her, and then open the door moments later? C’mon you two. Garnet runs to the audience level, Kyle putting on his aristocrat voice to say: “My, I most certainly preferred the version from last year, with all the death.” It was truer to the original Shakespeare! Garnet actually drops her sacred necklace along the way, but naturally decides to go without even if it would only take a second, and jumps into Zidane’s arms – thumping angrily on his chest moments later, as he only deserves. Everyone claps, Steiner reveals he brought the Save the Queen, and he and Beatrix raise it to catch the light. The final lines of the game are Zidane saying that he had to live to come home to Garnet, so he sang “our song,” which is then followed by a vocal version of the song in question (“Melodies of Life,” playing during the entire epilogue) that didn’t do nearly as well in the charts as “Eyes on Me.” I prefer the instrumental.

And that’s how the game ends! Kyle wasn’t happy with the ending. He insisted that it “Wasn’t a love story,” and he’s right. I think it did, eventually, and with some really unpleasant undertones at the outset that cast a shadow on the rest of the relationships, build up to a level where I believe Zidane and Garnet might become a couple, though frankly it could have been much better developed in a huge number of ways and Kyle’s got more than enough ground to stand on with his argument.

I liked FFIX a good deal, and it’s probably my second-favourite Final Fantasy game so far, right after FFV. But where FFV’s mistakes were simple to outline and suggested obvious fixes (arguably just needing some extra money and time), FFIX’s mistakes are complex and integral to the product, and would be unlikely to be shaken by simple revision. The narrative has the baffling 180 of a plot shift towards the end of Disc 3, abandoning every storyline in the game for an entirely new one, and the game’s central “romance” plot really, really isn’t one for most of its run time. On the gameplay side we have things that might have been fixed in the next generation, at least: the technical limitations of limited enemies in one battle, no boss phases or form changes, and severe balance issues towards the end of the game with its low HP cap. These are fairly deep faults, and if I think about it, if I weren’t so genuinely charmed by the product-at-large, I’d probably be a far less forgiving mood about these faults.

After the credits were done,  we get a “The End,” and the HD version outright cuts off to return to the title screen in the middle of the “Final Fantasy” theme, total amateur move. This probably has something to do with the game’s final Easter Egg and how they chose to change it, but it’s still sloppy. In the PSX version, you have to enter a good-old fashioned cheat code, while the HD version just puts a button on the main screen after beating the game. And what is the Easter Egg? A 1-on-1 game of Blackjack with a few Final Fantasy characters on the face cards. The game even has Doubling and Splitting, which I find many simple implementations of Blackjack will pass on.

And that wraps up FFIX! Our game time (at the final save point, not counting the final boss, ending and so on) was 36 h 40 m. By the way, how did I end up having so little to write about this game? Playtime’s a little low for a full RPG in this generation, but somehow I got significantly less posts (~5) and words (~10k) out of it than all the others. How’d that happen? And wasn’t I supposed to be stretching this out to keep us from catching up to active play? Shit!

In any event: coming up next on the Final Fantasy Journals…… the end of an empire.

Prev: Final Fantasy IX – Death Awaits All
Next: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within – The Fall

4 comments

  1. Killing Necron destroyed the Iifa Tree… I think. Something between Terra’s destruction and the final battle did, at least. Considering the density of the Mist on Disc 4 compared to earlier in the game, maybe Kuja overworked the Tree and killed it?

    Mikoto definitely needed more screen time. Too bad she was introduced at basically the end of the game…

    Beatrix definitely Karma Houdinis her way out of punishment, which is one of the complaints I see quite frequently about her. And while she may never kill anyone herself onscreen, as some people like to point out, it is worth noting that her objection was to using the Black Mages not to mass murdering all of the Cleryans!

    Lani being tsundere for Amarant is weird considering the last conversation they had was him threatening to beat her up. If anything, it almost seemed like the game was setting up Amarant to date Freya with as much as they interacted with each other.

    I totally agree that IX’s last act gets off the rails. However, some of the points you mentioned are addressed slightly! If you take Vivi and Quina to Quan’s Dwelling at one point, you get a scene of Quan talking with them and Quale. Basically, Quale only called him a bigot because Quan told Quale he was lacking as a culinarian in some ways. Similarly, Ruby’s theater is slightly involved in the Mognet sidequest.

    To give the romance subplot some credit, they’re not really a couple by the end of the game and only really express mutual interest in one another. Unless you buy the Conde Petie marriage as legit, anyway, but neither of the characters treated it particularly seriously after they left that village. I wonder how Steiner felt about that if/when he found out…

    Looking forward to the next journal! It’s that movie with James Woods as the villain, right? The one where he keeps talking about Zeus? Hercules, if I’m not mistaken.

    1. I have to agree with you on Amarant and Freya. I thought they’d at least end being semi-platonic battle partners and travel together or something, but nope. I mean, I get it, Amarant is basically cardboard unfortunately, but still. I like FFIX, but it’d be so much better if they went back and really fleshed out/didn’t drop the various plot threads and characters.

      Also lol Hercules, I never even thought about that before.

    2. Beatrix’s crimes are mostly in command rather than in-person actions, penning in the Cleyrans for Odin especially.

      Thanks for the info on the scenes I missed, I’ll have to edit in corrections about those!

      Yup, Square Films presents Disney’s Hercules, a perfect storm of production talent, if not for the fatal flaw that Disney’s Hercules had been released a few years earlier. Tragic.

  2. Does FFIX have problems? Yes. Are a lot of these points valid? Absolutely. I still love the game though.

    I actually like Rose of May (unless I’m getting song titles mixed up) better than Melodies of Life…but then I’m not as big a fan of Eyes on Me as everyone else seems to be, either.

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