As I’ve mentioned in the past (during Persona 2: Innocent Sin), Session 1 actually took place months ago, as a way of putting off Persona. After that, we stuck to our guns for both Persona 2 games and only came back after the fact for Session 2. Unfortunately, Session 2 would be abbreviated thanks to car troubles, but we did a fairly solid run at it all the same. The session carries us from Qu’s Marsh through to the return to Linblum in Disc 2. As you can see from the screenshots, we switched to recording in widescreen for the session.
The session opened by promptly mauling Vivi to death with a Hedgehog Pie, an overworld monster. We then had to return to Linblum to find the inn, despite it being one of the largest towns in the entire series to date, us having not played the game since before P2IS two games ago, and oh yeah: some intermediary rooms we had never seen pasted in just for extra bullshit. It took seven minutes, which is more than you’d expect from an inn, to say the least!
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.
The survivors set up a camp so that Garnet can recover from the spores, and spend most of their time arguing about whether to bring her back to Alexandria (Steiner’s idea – he hadn’t been listening to Garnet’s strong hints that she wanted nothing to do with her hometown and had run away deliberately, and is completely ignoring Brahne’s attack on her own daughter, perhaps because he wasn’t paying attention at the time) or to take her to Zidane’s home base in the neighbouring kingdom of Lindblum. While this is going on, we get some of our first solid details about a major plot element that the game has been hinting at for a while: it seems the lowlands of the FFIX world (Ed. pardon, just the current continent) are infested by a magical Mist that creates this world’s monsters and causes “abnormalities […] in the mind and body.” Mist has also been used to create this world’s airships, but by and large it’s a global threat that everyone would rather be rid of. It also seems to be a relatively recent threat, and it may very well have begun within living memory!
Garnet is all right in the morning, and the party is visited by a Moogle who offers you a tutorial on a few game systems (this tutorial comes in the form of an ATE, for some reason, as though the developers couldn’t think of any other way to make it optional?). He also offers a whistle you can use to call him to save and camp on the world map. At this point, since neither Zidane nor Steiner have won the argument about where to go, the party agrees their best course of action would be to get above the Mist via a nearby cave system, which will simultaneously allow them to get their bearings. First things first!
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 first Marathon 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 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) 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 plot (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 complaining about it explicitly 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 to suggest you intended to say otherwise, then you’re in a ditch, my friend.
Chapter 24: Limit Breaking Concerto
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 in this fictional religion. 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!
Chapter 23: On a Runaway Train to Certain Doom
Chapter 23 opens by turning back a few minutes, where we see Shotgun place a phone call to an unknown party to take care of Elfé. While this is happening, the game informs us that “there were many who were unaware of the coming crisis.” What, unaware of the giant light show outside? The game shows President Shinra and Rufus as examples, two people who should absolutely be getting a call about this, but whatever, President Shinra’s creepy, evil pride in having his son back is still interesting in its own right, now that the man’s a fully (or near-fully) fleshed character instead of a cartoon. Anyways, this is the game’s excuse for why no one talks about the giant final boss fight that took place not long before the start of FFVII, despite the two of them standing in an office with huge windows, and it is simply pathetic.
We next learn that Tseng’s group has recovered Elfé and reunited her with her father. As a matter of fact, she’s on her feet! Sort of! The two have a brief chat, Elfé dealing with a lot guilt over hosting Zirconiade. Unfortunately, the group is just getting ready to leave when they’re found by some Shinra Grunts, who are apparently also so invested in their current activities that they haven’t noticed a magical nebulae the size of the Burj Khalifa, which by all signs is not a hundred yards from their current location!