final fantasy marathon

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

FFIX-00130The 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 In the HD remake, with the now out-of-date prerendered cutscene in the background and the HD Zidane in the foreground, it looks like absolute crap.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.

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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!

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Final Fantasy IX – Ghosts of Bosses Past

FFIX-00104Session 4 carries on through to the end of the game, though considering how close we were at the end of Session 3, that isn’t particularly surprising! Actually, Kyle and I had a tremendously successful session, finishing off not only FFIX, but also TSW and a certain other project I’ll talk about when we get there. It was good stuff!

Since we’re getting towards the end of the game, I think I should add a brief forecast for what’s coming soon on the blog. The Spirits Within follows, we wouldn’t miss it. After that, we’ll be doing another Look-Back at the Final Fantasy and Persona PSX games and their sequels with some new Top 5 lists. But before we get to FFX and X-2, we’ll be doing two of these “special projects” I just hinted at, so look forward to that! As for FFX, I should publicly clarify that FFX is one of those rare games that both Kyle and I have already played in the past! (The only other Final Fantasy game in this position was Mystic Quest.) After that, Kyle has played FFTA, and I’ve discussed my testy history with 4HoL, but beyond those, every game in the series is brand new to both of us until you get to FFXV. FFXV is special, since I actually played it partially as an official part of the Marathon, since someone had to write up all the time-sensitive events! As a result, the FFXV Journal actually has several completed write-ups, which is a weird feeling since they won’t run for years!

You may also be curious how we’re going to handle the upcoming FFVII Remake. We probably are going to play it eventually, but Kyle wants to wait until all the episodes are released, so it may be… ahaha… some time, as it were. I may end up playing it on my own in the interim. For the record, Marathon rules don’t obligate us to play new remakes like this, no matter how different they may be from the original, but unless the game turns out to be a serious dud, I think we’ll want to play it, so no worries there. We played Dirge of Cerberus, didn’t we?

(The “We don’t have to play remakes no matter how different” rule is a technicality that dates back to the abbreviated, and so rarely-mentioned, Castlevania Marathon, what with a half-dozen retellings of the original Castlevania on the market!).

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Final Fantasy IX – Tattered Quilt

FFIX-00096The party reunites, and preps for the *cough* “final” dungeon run. First up was a trap that I didn’t understand, where you have to hit a switch and then avoid lights that appear in a grid while crossing the room. I thought it was a whack-a-mole game and kept deliberately chasing the lights until Kyle spoke up and explained things to me! One of the monsters in this area was the Movers from FFV, a final dungeon enemy that rewarded treasure troves worth of AP. Not so much here, where they gave no more than a regular enemy! The presence of an end dungeon enemy, plus the inevitable encounter with Garland and Kuja, prompted me to joke that we were in a fake-out dungeon, like Exdeath’s Castle and the Floating Continent before this. Kyle asked how I could possibly think this wasn’t the final dungeon, and I got to look him straight in the eye and say: “Well, I have this fourth disc in my game box that I haven’t touched yet…” This structure doesn’t work on the PSX!

Next up was an elevator puzzle. The idea is that the elevator has a ramp that’s required to get on or off, and the ramp rotates 50 degrees each level it rises. You have to coordinate the ramp with your climb in order to get anywhere. If you fail to do it in a mere two touches of the controls, the game will have your other party members stay behind to run it for you, which trivializes the puzzle. Funnily enough, this is delivered as an ATE, and is actually the last ATE in the entire game, despite this not actually being the final dungeon! There’s an entire disc to go and they just… abandoned this prominent side feature!

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Final Fantasy IX – Angel of Theft

FFIX-00083

You literally lived in a tornado, what word would you have used?

While I was well prepared to move on with the plot, Kyle was reading the guide around this point and spotted one last bonus location on the main map. Unfortunately, by sheer coincidence, I found the first of the four seals at just that time, and accidentally dumped two of our party members off there as part of the plot. More on what happens to them later, since I need to finish discussing the consequences of my poor gameplay decisions. Deciding I should just carry on with the plot at first, I let off another group of two at the next spot, and only then changed my mind, so we were left with just the remaining party of four for our trip to this new location! Thankfully it was just a town: Daguerreo, a library town that sold the game’s best equipment (after a puzzle) and synth recipes. We didn’t have near enough money for everything, and went grinding for some cash by fighting the Grand Dragons outside, and also the Gimmie Cats, who try to trick you into thinking they’re Friendly monsters when they’ll actually just steal from you! The Grand Dragons are incredibly dangerous even this late in the game, so we decided to go back to the Iifa Tree to Eat the Level 5 Death ability off of a Stroper.

…Oh god, we made Quina eat a dick. I hate everything.

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Final Fantasy IX – Nina, you’re the only one equipped for this dungeon!

FFIX-00068To my utter bafflement, Cid declared that if they jogged to shore, they’d be able to follow the Hilda Garde I on their fucking seaship, Thankfully, no doubt skippered by Squall Leonhart, they did the impossible and chased the man across the ocean, seeing him go to Esto Gaza up north. Most of the town had been abandoned, but the furious bishop was able to tell us that Kuja and “hundreds” of Black Mages had shown up. The game then showed a cutscene with exactly thirteen Black Mages. I’m not entirely sure what angle I want to make fun of this from, so I’ve decided to be curious and wonder if these proportions can be applied to any Final Fantasy game’s population abstractions. Are there supposed to be ten times as many people in any town as there are actual NPCs? Where in the series does that ratio make sense, and where doesn’t it? Show your work!

Anyways, Kuja and his pals had taken Eiko into the nearby dormant volcano, Mount Gulug, same as the name on the stone. Mount Gulug was named after Mount Gulg from FFI, and even played a remix of its famous music. “Gulug” is another transliteration that I don’t think I can blame on the localizers, because the mountain’s name remains inconsistently translated to this very day. Translations include: “Gulg,” “Gulug,” “Gurgu,” and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a remix of the song entitled “Gorgo.” As I discussed with Kyle, the idea of Mt. Gulg being in the arctic might be a reference to FFA, where Marilith was an ice demon for some reason, but that’s probably just a coincidence.

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Final Fantasy IX – Charge of the Summoner Fairy

FFIX-00058We finally made our way to the desert, where we found not one but four whirlpools of sand. Naturally, three were fakes, and just as naturally, the fakes included fights with the Antlion boss from back in Cleyra, still able to do easy group damage and hefty counterattacks, making it far more dangerous than the average enemies, or frankly even the average boss refight! I actually had to go back to the ship to swap Vivi into the party (despite him being a much higher level than the others) because I just couldn’t figure out how to deal with them without his magic! Naturally again, we only found the fucking fortress dead last, leading to multiple Antlion encounters, plus some with sand worms out of FFI.

As soon as you “find” the fortress, FFIX does another of those in medias res cuts it’s been using so often lately, and jumps ahead a few hours. And with good reason! It seems you were captured the moment you went under the sand, and everyone wakes up in separate cells, except for Zidane, who has been packed in with Cid so that Kuja can threaten / negotiate with them together. Definitely not as a hackneyed way for the devs to set Cid free later on!

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Final Fantasy IX – Schooled by a Schoolbook

FFIX-00047Yup, Kuja just attacked Alexandria with Bahamut. Taking control of Garnet, we were able to assign the Pluto Knights to various tasks. Unlike Eiko’s cooking sequence, we had met these fellows and knew something of their personality, but it had been over a year and two Persona games ago, and asking you to remember twelve different names and personalities from the start of the game would be asking a lot at the best of times, so I was basically just picking at random. Judging from their reactions, we got two right and two wrong, earning an Elixir where we could have gotten an ahead-of-the-curve accessory.

Garnet lingered as the evacuation began, and was for some reason overcome by a magical effect that caused her to faint. Unawares, Steiner and Beatrix went into town to fight the Mistodons Kuja had unleashed after his summons. I actually died here towards the end, because there was a series of battles that almost refused to end, but I kept assuming they would to give me a chance to heal! They didn’t! The Mistodons are actually pretty tough with just two people, since they can put you to sleep really easily! I then died again after I restarted and tried “Nina” all of Beatrix’s equipment (you can take everything but her Save the Queen sword). When this, too, failed, I gave her shittier equipment instead, and was well rewarded in the long run, but I’ll take the blame for those cock-ups.

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Final Fantasy IX – His Highest Possible Priority

FFIX-00035The 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.

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Final Fantasy IX – Life Without Coffee

FFIX-00016Eiko 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).

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