I mentioned in my first Final Fantasy IX post how great the callbacks are previous entries in the franchise, but at the time I was only half a dozen hours or so into it. Now over twenty hours, I can safely confirm that the references, throwbacks, and familiar feelings of Final Fantasies gone by do not take a back seat. In fact they only seem in increase in frequency, and refer to a growing variety of previous titles.
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In an ironic twist, my favorite callback of Final Fantasy IX so far hearkens back to my least favorite game of the marathon, Final Fantasy II. Not far into disc two I find an emotionally and physically drained Dagger as she comes to grips with the fact that her mother the Queen isn’t who she once was, following Queen Brahne’s forceful removal of Dagger’s eidolons. On her path to mental clarity we happen upon the spirit of Ramuh, who will join her as a new eidolon if she can piece together a story he’s broken up throughout Pinnacle Rocks.
Once you collect all the piece to the story and piece it together you are treated to the tale of a man named Joseph, who helped a band of travelers to defeat a vicious Adamantoise deep within a Snow Cavern. They emerge from the battle victorious, and upon fleeing the cave are caught in a trap. Joseph sacrifices his life so the travelers can get away, leaving behind his daughter Nellie.
Ramuh’s story is an exact string of events that happens in Final Fantasy II. I have only played Final Fantasy IX through to completion once before, more than a decade ago, and until earlier this year I had never played Final Fantasy II. Obviously this nod would have flown right over my head previously, but this time I not only caught the reference, but found it to be so brilliant and clever. I may not have had the best time with FFII, but I’m so glad I experienced it. This is exactly the kind of thing that I wanted out of this marathon, to learn the roots of Final Fantasy and appreciate where it has been, as well as be able to pick up on these kinds of things.
Of course that’s far from the only nod I’ve caught this last week. Dwarves popped up in several of the early games, and played an especially important role in Final Fantasy IV. However in a an ever-increasing effort to strive toward realism in Final Fantasy, FFVI, FFVII, and FFVIII all left out the happy underground dwellers. Final Fantasy IX foregoes realism in its fantastical world, and gives the dwarves a point of prominence in Conde Petie, the first location you explore in the Outer Continent. Rally-ho!
Final Fantasy IV is one game in particular that keeps coming to mind as I play Final Fantasy IX. There’s a point in FFIV where the young twins Palom and Porom petrify themselves to save Cecil from death, and it’s pretty sad and touching. When they appear later in the game thanks to the Elder healing them, it’s like a breath of fresh air seeing them again. Early in FFIX Zidane’s friend Blank helps the team escape from the Evil Forest, but in doing so becomes petrified himself. Later in the game, as Dagger, you assist Marcus in obtaining the Supersoft item, which can cure the petrification. When you part ways with Marcus and he later comes to the rescue with a cured Blank, there is a similar feeling of relief knowing that your ally’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain.
Also related to Final Fantasy IV is the young summoner, Eiko Carol. In FFIV Cecil and Kain are ordered to destroy the town of Mist, and all the summoners therein. The sole survivor is the newly orphaned 7-year old, Rydia. While Zidane’s first encounter with Eiko is nowhere near as dramatic as Cecil meeting Rydia, the two girls have so much in common. Both lost their parents at a young age and had to overcome obstacles far and above what should be asked of children, and both have the ability to call forth powerful creatures to aid them. Of course their personalities wildly differ, but there’s no doubt that Rydia served as inspiration for Eiko.
Speaking of summons, the Eidolons in Final Fantasy IX are the most important any summons have been since the SNES days. Final Fantasy VI wouldn’t have had a plot or a heroine without Espers, but Final Fantasy VII’s Summons and Final Fantasy VIII’s Guardian Forces both took a bit of a back seat. In comes Final Fantasy IX and the truly epic cutscenes involving Odin, Bahamut, Alexander (I can’t wait to hit that scene later this week), and more to remind you just how badass and pivotal summons can be. Queen Brahne extracts Dagger’s Eidolons and uses them to conquer her foes, destroying Cleyra and Burmecia both with Odin’s power. Then she tries to summon Bahamut to take on Kuja, but he beast turns on her and Mega Flares her ass to a crisp. The cinematics showcasing these events are truly beautiful, and bar none some of the best graphics the original PlayStation had to offer.
The Eidolons don’t stop being awesome there, however. A major complaint throughout many Final Fantasy titles is the inability to skip summon sequences. Sure, they’re new and amazing the first couple times you watch them, but eventually the want to progress the battle swiftly outweighs the want to sit through the same 30-second scene you’ve already watched a dozen times. In Final Fantasy IX you only see the full summon cinematic the first time you call them to battle, and only occasionally thereafter. It is glorious, and when it unexpectedly shows you the full scene it’s a nice treat instead of a boring slog. Too bad this didn’t catch on. It’s one of the best features in the game.
This week presented me with so much I wanted to talk about, but I’m going to quickly summarize the rest of those points and call it good for this week:
~Zidane and Garnet becoming a couple by the game’s end is just as obvious as Squall and Rinoa’s inevitable romance, but it feels so much more authentic, organic, and well thought out instead of incredibly forced and unnatural.
~Chocobo Hot & Cold is one of my favorite chocobo mini-games in any Final Fantasy, and I want to sit and play it for several hours just like I wanted to sit and play Triple Triad in Final Fantasy VIII.
~Mog the moogle returns from Final Fantasy VI, though in a non-speaking role. In FFVI Mog is the only moogle that can speak like a person, while in FFIX he’s the only one who doesn’t seem to be able to.
~There are rare random battles that present you with a pop quiz, and reward you with bonus Gil or EXP for a correct answer; I’m sitting at 3 for 3 so far. It’s really neat!
~Vivi is possibly the deepest character yet presented in a Final Fantasy title. So much curiosity, tragedy, and uncertainty. You see him grow so much throughout the game.
~Oh, and my party is complete with the addition of Amarant. He hasn’t done much yet.
Whew! That’s all for week 33! Less than 20 weeks to go, with 5 games yet to play. Can I do it?? This week I will continue Final Fantasy IX from the start of disc 3, and hopefully have the time to wrap it up this weekend. Goals are fun! Remember you can follow my live tweets on Twitter by following me or searching for the hashtag #RoadtoXVin15. Oh, and the chaps at Super Nerd Pals had me on their podcast this week to discuss the Road to XV in ’15, so once the new episode goes live I’ll be sure to share that too! Look forward to it!