The GWJ JRPG Club: Final Fantasy IX (Q2 2023)

Started into disc 3 over the weekend and got access to the Blue Narciss. Went and did all the side content that opened up which took about 5 hours in total to complete. It would have taken much longer to do all of that without the speed up mechanic from the newer versions, which is probably why I do not remember doing a lot of this content originally even though I had the (useless) strategy guide.

I like the moment to moment gameplay, even though the animations for certain things are extremely long, and since the game does not pause ATB gain during them, makes them somewhat detrimental. I like learning abilities from equipment, makes you look at each new item you get rather than just picking the thing with the best stats. It eventually gets there, but nice to have this mini-progression between level ups.

It definitely feels like this game was built on the premise of a mystery story. The first parts have you on fairly heavily scripted rails where you have no choices and are just caught in the action or immediate need. Then you're supposed to be asking all of these questions that make you want to dig, and that drives the plot forward until the edges of the answers start coming into focus. Although even into disc 3, there is still the lingering question of "Why?"

Last Surprise's spoiler:


I don't remember where it comes up, but I think it is around this time, that its revealed Queen Branhe has not always been like this. Until her husband's death, she was actually quite kind and compassionate. So that makes Dagger/Garnet question that her mother could be responsible, and gives Cid an idea that she can be reasoned with. I believe everyone is supposed to just be ignoring Garnet's desire to go back to Alexandria, and Zidane is trusting Cid to just keep her locked up in Lindblum for now. But yeah, this game relies quite heavily on that anime trope of young people making bone-headed decisions.

I really love how much this game splits the party and gives each of them unique story segments. I want more games with larger casts to do this, so that each person has a chance to shine, and a reason to not just hone in on your favorites, leaving the others unbuilt. And that it keeps shifting, you get to see how they mesh with each other, both story-wise and combat-wise.

With pressing on, I made it to the end of Disk 2, which turned out to be a very eventful time.

I’m putting some stuff down that happens in the last 2 or so hours in spoilers. Big spoilers for those not to this point yet.


So the first thing that was weirding me out about the Iifa tree was that it was supposed to be this ancient tree of life, but it was super dead inside what with all the zombies and such. I don’t know if we ever really got an explanation for that one other than irony, or maybe they were kept alive by the Mist? I don’t think it is ever addressed.

Also, I really have hard time understanding why we went to the Iifa tree in the first place, other that it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Like, are we just looking for clues for something to fight Kuja, and maybe he was seen over there so why not? All I remember was we couldn’t get in without Eiko despawning the protective barrier, but I don’t remember the explanation for WHY we wanted go to the bottom of a super spooky giant tree that was sealed up by a 6 year old for clues without anything more solid to go on or a compelling reason to be there. Plus I was a bit surprised everyone expected Kuja’s minions to be at the bottom of the tree because, you know, the whole seal thing that kept people from getting in. Of course the whole thing turned out okay, since killing the boss at the bottom turned off the Mist (which seems like a big deal to just stumble into!), which actually did cause Kuja to show up for some reason which also caused the Queen to show up because of course she knew he would be there for some reason. I don’t know, I feel like this all only works on anime logic. Just think of the logistics!

Also, the elevators in the tree only responded to Zidane for some reason. I guess this will eventually tie into his heretofore unexplained background (he’s definitely magic), since they made a point of telling us he doesn’t know who his real parents are.

What also strikes me is we wound up doing this big world-changing thing (turning off the Mist generator), but we didn’t know that it was down there, and we did so on a snap judgment without really knowing the consequences, and Vivi was fine ‘denying his existence’ to stop it. It’ll probably wind up just fine, but it’s just seems so abrupt.

I’m also trying to find out what Amarant’s role will be in all of this. Most of the crew have a personal stake in the plot up to this point. Quina was the only one who doesn’t, and now I have no idea about this guy either. Also his hair is out of control.

The battle of the Iifa Tree was a fun watch, although it was also a reminder that we are tiny fish in a big pond in this game, although we so far have been at best spanners in the works for the various plots. And then the Queen just straight up dies, so Kuja is taking the place as the villain now. And with Dagger begin crowned, presumably she’s going to be out of the party for awhile.

I want to keep extolling the greatness for the speed up and turn off battles options. I usually have battles on and speed up enabled (unless I’m doing fine motions or trying to fight a hard battle when I actually need to be able to get people healed on a timely basis), but at this point I’m probably overlevled (Lv 31-33), so I sometimes just turn off the battles if I don’t want to deal with it for a bit. And it makes grinding easy; just mash A a lot and heal occasionally, and it goes by so very, very fast.

Sundown's spoilers:


The party heads to the Iifa Tree because when you go to the Black Mage Village, one of them says they saw a silver dragon flying over The Sanctuary (which is what the dwarves call the Iifa Tree). The party saw Kuja fly into Burmecia on a silver dragon, so they go there as the best lead to find him.

I don't think the Iifa Tree was ever called a tree of life? Eiko says it was where they sealed the failed Eidolon summoning 10 years ago (Garner/Dagger grabs the Aquamarine from here, which teaches Leviathan, so we are to infer the failed summon is Leviathan). The only thing life-ish about it, is that the area was apparently sealed with the power of Phoenix (you get a Ruby which teaches the Phoenix summon when you dispel the barrier).

My guess is Kuja was not subtle about his movements to the Outer Continent, intending to draw Branhe's fleet out here to destroy it. He wants to take control of the most powerful Eidolon so that he can rule Gaia (or something like that), and he has to bait Branhe to do that since she extracted Bahamut from Garnet.

But yes, overall the game does run on "anime logic" as you point out. There are story threads that are losely hung together, and if you stare too hard you see the holes in the tapestry. Considering it came out a year after FF8 and a year before FF10, it may have gotten a little neglected on the narrative front, also it being an end of console generation game.

I don't really like Amarant. He really feels like a tack-on to the party at this point, someone to fill out the 8th slot so you can have two parties of four. Quina also feels a bit the same way, but at least they made an appearance back at the start of the game, and the Qu seem somewhat integrated into the world story (Vivi's grandpa is a Qu as well). Amarant has that broody, I don't like anyone personality that just turns me off. His entire reason for tagging along is "Zidane is stronger than me, I must know why."

As a heads up, FF9 just went back on sale on the Nintendo eShop until May 9th at it's previous low of $10.49 USD, in case anyone else like me hasn't gotten started yet.

TheMostRad wrote:

As a heads up, FF9 just went back on sale on the Nintendo eShop until May 9th at it's previous low of $10.49 USD, in case anyone else like me hasn't gotten started yet.

Snagged it. Thanks for the heads up!

Still not sure if I will pick up my PS1 game (near the beginning of disc 3) after watching a recap since I remember so little of the game up to now, or if I will start over on Switch with the speed-up option I've grown to love so much in FFVII Switch.

Either way, want to finish FFVII first, which I've been intermittently working on for about 2 months now.

Playing the PS1 version emulated on an Android handheld. 16 hours in and I can't even imagine this game without the speed-up option or with OG load times. I know I beat it that way back in the day, but I can't imagine how. I think I was getting far worse grades then as an undergrad than I am now as a grad student.

hbi2k wrote:

As I recall the map opens up a little bit later on, but as of right now I'm still feeling very on rails. Every time I've been on the world map, it's been a short, linear walk between two points, often so short that I barely have time to get into more than one or two random battles. There's no sense of space, of a journey across wilderness, and I have no idea where any of the places I've visited stand in relation to one another. It feels like the world map is only there at all because it seems like the sort of thing a JRPG "should" have, and this game definitely feels like the pivot point between the classic Final Fantasy style and the "hallway simulator" style of your FF10s and 13s where they dropped the world map altogether, to the series' detriment.

I have read that the modern ports of this game have drastically reduced the encounter rate, and while I generally agree old FF games had way too many random encounters, it feels like they threw the dial too hard in the other direction this time. As hbi2k mentions about the world map, I am also feeling in the dungeons. Granted, most of these dungeons are only a handful of screens, but still, running through them completely with only 2-3 encounters makes everything feel very empty. I am probably severely under-leveled as I am not taking time out to grind at all, and only getting a few encounters per dungeon (using Choco on world map), means very little exp and AP. With the ability to turn off battles completely, I kind of wish they had left the original encounter rate in, or only dropped it by like 10-20%.

Credits have rolled, but not before this bombshell got dropped on me:



99 Potions in the inventory and Auto Potion on the whole party feels like a big comfy blanket.

That is all.

Game bugged, I keep selecting "leave it alone" but Zidane keeps sexually harassing it.


I’m a few hours into Ch3 and finally got the boat, so the world is now opening up (as are a ton of side content I’m going to try to not get bogged down in). In the meantime, there was some stuff going on in this chapter so far that I’ll comment on, and make some dangerously tentative speculation.


So the battle of Alexandria was wild. I wasn’t expecting Bahamut to just start flaming the whole town. But then Alexander just popped up almost right out of the castle and grew wings, and it just wiped out Bahamut. I chuckled since it was so absurd, ngl. But then it got nuked anyway by mystery space man. So that whole thing was a trip.

Cities in this game don’t have a good record of surviving, do they? Two got nuked so far (Alexandria and Cleyra), one is an empty shell because everyone was wiped out or driven out (Burmecia), and a fourth got merely attacked and captured (Lundblum). I’m trying to guess if anyone else gets destroyed; it seems like one might for the sake of drama, but all the major cities minus Treno have been hit up to this point.

I think Lindblum makes it to the end since it’s being rebuilt so it’s kind of the ‘hope’ for this world, and the Dwarves make it since I don’t know if they are going to be relevant again. Treno really doesn't seem plot relevant other than Dr. Tot's house being there so I don't think it matters enough to get destroyed. That small town (Dali?) where the Black Mage factory might make it since they probably aren’t really relevant anymore either what with the Mist being diminished and all. Summoner village is already desolate, but I can see plot points still happening there due to some buried secrets or something. BMV is a candidate for bad things happening now that I think about it a little bit, so that may be something to keep an eye on, especially since going back there is the next story beat from where I am.

And just a super minor reply to Malkroth's spoiler to my prior spoiler.

Malkroth wrote:

Sundown's spoilers:


I don't think the Iifa Tree was ever called a tree of life?


It was called the tree of life once and only once, on the title card.

I am in Gizamaluke's Grotto, and wow, does it feel like there has been a difficulty spike!


And, I am really feeling the absence of a white mage right now.

Maybe it's the turned-down encounter rate? I'm wondering if my levels are lagging because random encounters don't hit as often as it seemed they did in the original. Also, I missed picking up Quina, and I think I need to go back for her before I press on through the Grotto.

Hoping to make a good push next week, while my wife's out of town on a work trip -- and thus not hogging the Switch. (It's okay, I've been loving Midnight Suns anyway.) We'll see how it goes!

Sundown wrote:

I’m a few hours into Ch3 and finally got the boat, so the world is now opening up (as are a ton of side content I’m going to try to not get bogged down in).

I lied, I did the side quests after all, particularly after we traded in the boat for the airship. Particularly the Chocobo one where you play hot/cold to find the chocographs. At first I hated it since I don’t like those sorts of RNG elements, but once I got used to using the speed up option move move at super speed and how to quickly find things, I’ve come to actually sort of enjoy it. And I love the happy little clapping music while the game is going on. Anyway, I’ve gotten all of the Chocographs and pieces, so I’ve gotten some pretty darn good equipment from it. And running around the world with the Chocobo on fast forward has become a guilty pleasure of mine, especially once it gets more traversal stuff (like running up mountains). It’s the little things.

LastSurprise wrote:

I am in Gizamaluke's Grotto, and wow, does it feel like there has been a difficulty spike!


And, I am really feeling the absence of a white mage right now.

Yeah, early on I had Zidane stealing all day every day and had a mountain of potions. That's around the time I had to start spending them.

I would definitely go back and get Quina, and maybe look up where their Blue Magic comes from, because you have some pretty important ones you can grab already. Also starting frog catching early will help you get the damage on Frog Drop to a respectable place without having to do a bunch at the very end (plus some free items).

I am definitely feeling the reduced encounter rate at this point. I just wrapped up Mount Gulug and had to actually do a bit of grinding here, since the regular enemies were around 6 levels above my party. Ran into one encounter that absolutely wiped the floor with me. Would have been a complete wipe in 2-3 attacks except Vivi had an item on that absorbed their attack. Was able to slowly claw my way out of that fight, but knew at that point I needed to do some leveling. My AP had always been fine, so was not too concerned about grinding, but I definitely feeling the lack of levels now.

Speaking of Quina, I have been thinking about Final Fantasy blue mages. I realized that in the games that have defined classes for the characters, the blue mage has always been some kind of non-standard character. In FF6, Gau is probably the most normal, but he cannot equip weapons and his blue magic makes him uncontrollable. In FF9, we get Quina who is a weird frog thing, that no one else seems to know what they are? Like, people know the Qu exist but have no idea what they are. In FF10, we have Khimari, who is the only non-human party member. I can't think of any other defined blue mages. I know 1, 3, 5, and 12 all use a job system of some sort, and 7 has materia, so anyone can use blue magic. It has been so long since I played 8 (and I didn't like it much) that I don't remember if characters had defined classes, or if the draw system overwrote all that.

That's an interesting point. What about Strago though? I think he's more of a traditional caster. I wouldn't have thought of Gau as a blue mage, but you're right that he fits in with that paradigm.

Gau is closer to an FF5 Ranger than a Blue Mage, although the fact that he's also a berserker makes him unique.

But yeah, Strago is probably the most traditional of the"named" / "canonical" blue mages (as opposed to a job or materia system where any character can be a blue mage).

Also, this got me thinking about FF spinoffs, and of all the characters in Bravely Default I'd say that Lord DeRosso is the Blue Mage. He's definitely unique in terms of story and set apart from the other Asterisk holders -- I don't remember if you can get him on the first loop, or have to wait until later loops.

Ah, good catch. I actually completely forgot Strago exists and that he is actually the blue mage in that game. That does make him the only defined blue mage that matches the rest of the crew. The only thing you could say that is odd about him is that he's definitely an old man (60s probably), whereas the rest of the crew is young-appearing. I would guess Cyan or Setzer being the next oldest in the group, assuming the Yeti or Gogo are not somehow ancient beings. Just occurred to me playing through this that I rarely, if ever, use blue mages even though they are generally strong, and just how odd Quina is directing my thoughts that way.

Blue Mages are often strong, but you have to know which enemies have learnable attacks and remember to put your blue mage in the party at the right time to learn them, and getting the most out of their spells often involves some weird quirks like knowing that THIS particular boss is level 20 and therefore vulnerable to both Lvl 4 Tornado and Lvl 5 Spooge.

It's a lot simpler to just cast Firaga. Or in Quina's case, stick them with the pointy end. S/he's a decent physical attacker, so I've mostly been sticking with that.

I seldom use the Lv. Spells, but I feel like there's a lot to recommend blue mages even without those weird quirky abilities. I find the class is worth it for White Wind alone; it's often one of the best healing spells in any game in which it appears.

I liked FF V's ability to equip the Blue Mage's learning ability on everyone. That definitely took a lot of the guesswork or arbitrariness out of getting abilities. I also really liked FF X's Lancet for Khimari, I found it much more engaging to actively try to steal abilities than to just wait to be hit with them.

I think the Blue Magic that I've gotten the most use out of has been Strago (since he starts with Aqua Breath in a dungeon where everything is fire-based, plus Grand Train is obtained from a boss where he's a required party member and so is hard to miss, and functions as a decent Discount Ultima) and FF7's Enemy Skill materia, since you can cheese Beta early from the Midgar Zolom and wreck the early game, and then Big Guard + Regen + Haste is my go-to buff combo for boss fights as soon as it becomes an option.

That might just be a function of those being the games I've played the most, though.

I've never liked Blue Magic in FF games. Too quirky.

LastSurprise wrote:

I seldom use the Lv. Spells, but I feel like there's a lot to recommend blue mages even without those weird quirky abilities. I find the class is worth it for White Wind alone; it's often one of the best healing spells in any game in which it appears.

I had forgotten White Wind was a reoccurring spell, I just know it as my go-to Catmancer ability in Bravely Second right now (besides Perforator). But speaking of Blue Mages, the Catmancer is as good a contender as any - strong pool of abilities and strong enough to do damage with knuckle weapons.

I made it an hour or so deeper into the game, backtracking to get Quina, then grinding a little bit to get some of Quina's blue magic, then making it through the grotto. The extra party members and levels definitely helped! And, the boss was a challenge for sure.

I've paused in what I assume is an intervening scene featuring Steiner and Dagger. Definitely laughed at some of the conversation options that were presented, like the one where Steiner decides that this civilian is to blame for the gate getting broken, and the game presents you with a "Kill / Don't Kill" option. I didn't choose Kill, but I wonder what would have happened if I did?

Reached the end of Disc 2. Apparently despite Brahne


perpetrating multiple genocides, the people were still fond of her. For some reason. And I'm supposed to be sad she's dead. For some reason.

I'm with Sundown on Amarant and Quina feeling like placeholders. Add to that Garnet still being a fairly generic rebellious pure-hearted white mage princess, Eiko being a pretty stock sassy little kid, and Zidane being just... kind of the worst, and that's over half of the playable ensemble that I could take or leave at best. That's... not great. And while Freya is cool and I hope she comes back, she doesn't have any particular relationship or chemistry with anyone else. She sort of feels like she occasionally wanders into the party from a different game.

This game is lucky that I like Vivi and Steiner so much. And speaking of Steiner, isn't it about time I get him back in the active party? Feels like it's been a while.

Oh yeah, I guess Kuja's the main bad guy now. Sure, I guess. Dude feels very Discount Sephiroth, only without the cool blood-trail intro or the mysterious past with the main character


(that we know of yet, I seem to recall the story hastily tying them together in the 11th hour)

to lend him weight and make me care.

Alright, I'm done with Ch. 3, and am pushing towards the end so that I can have it done before the new Zelda comes out, since most things will be on hold for that, and I don't know if I'll be totally lost if I come back to FF9 later.

I feel a little bad since I don't know if I'm giving the game it's full due. It's the first time I've played a game with lots of fast forward, and I don't know if I'm missing part of the "experience" of exploring the world since it takes mere seconds to go from place to place. I have it on basically any time outside of hard fights so that I have time to respond to problems.

I'll talk a little high level here with no real spoilers. The game has gotten bonkers at this point, but it sort of feels like it's watered down to me. Like, I mentioned a lot early on that everything was so bombastic early on and there was no time to breathe. It's sort of stayed like that throughout (but with a few breather episodes throughout ch. 2 and 3), but is kind of running into the principle of "if everything is wild, nothing is wild." I'm not sure how it's really landing, although I also sort of think of it like a fairy tale which helps pull everything together.

Anyway, I'm going to try to push through and try to wrap it up in the next couple of days.

Yeah, I'm just wrapping up the big early Disc 3 (immediately post Treno card game tournament) cutscene fest right now, and 20 hours into the game seems a little late in the day to me to be introducing quite this many new plot elements. The story is in full anime bullsh*t mode now.

I doubt I'll be able to wrap things up before TotK, but FF9 on my discreet little emulation handheld has been my "lunch breaks and dead time at work" game while other things have been my "marathon sessions at home" games, and there's plenty of time left in the quarter, so I don't intend to rush. There are always guides to get myself unstuck if I get lost.

Edit: Also, hey, game? Can you do me a favor and NOT give me a full party of four, making me think I need to spend time equipping all of them, only to drop three of them immediately before I even get into a single combat? That would be greeeeaaat.

The party-switching nature of the game in general combined with the learn-skills-from-items system and the item synthesis system has a bad habit of leaving me with the niggling suspicion that an important item that I need for skill learning or synthesis is stuck on an inactive character. The game badly needs a QoL "unequip inactive character" feature.

And done, just under my self imposed Zelda-related deadline and just under the 41 hour mark.

Final party turned out to be Zidane / Freya / Steiner / Eiko. The mages just weren’t doing enough damage to justify keeping them, and Freya and Steiner had my two best fixed damage attacks (from their ultimate weapons), so they were my main attackers. Honestly, outside of stealing, Zidane is probably the weak link of my three attackers (and Eiko was just white maging it up). I also found that auto life and auto regen are really good in the late game; as long as a character survived a big attack, they would heal back up enough that chip damage wouldn’t outright kill them and it bumped survivability way up at the end.

The story was interesting at times, but felt like it had a decent number of holes in it. And I commented alot before on how the story just went too hard too early; taking a page out of the Legend of Heroes games to just let it breathe sometimes could have helped with the pacing.

The characters were also a mish-mash; Vivi is great and I’m glad he gets a lot of attention in the story; Steiner is played straight and his earnestness is great; Freya is cool but grossly under utilized; Dagger is kind of bog standard but it works; Eiko is fine but a bit unbelievable; Amarant and Quina are uninteresting; and Zidane is just annoying. I think they were going for some sort of flirty rouge archetype (maybe a Han Solo or something? I don’t know, I need better reference points) but it didn’t work and also it didn’t make sense that anyone looked to him as any sort of leader of the group; Steiner was right to assume he was up to no good since he seldom did anything to prove that he should lead.

Music was great, though.

I don’t know, the individual parts all seemed uneven, but it still more or less worked for me as a whole. I’d say it’s greater than the sum of it’s parts. Playing this one actually made me more more interested in playing later FF games with a bit more polish (this is the highest numbered game in the series I’ve played), so I’d be down for 10, 12 or maybe 15 with the club later if people are ever interested.

I will only say this. Attempting to steal the Fairy Flute from the Giant is a fool's errand.

I think buying Zelda just killed any chance of me going back to this