Archives of Memory in Final Fantasy IX (PS1)
Final Fantasy IX was indisputably the most formative game of my life. My brother and I bought it when it first came out. Unfortunately, we had quite an unpredictable set of discs, which meant that the game would constantly crash during the CGI cut scenes. I remember when this first happened (around 3am – when 12 year old me should have been asleep). I crawled over to the blank screen of my TV in horror, tears in my eyes, pleading with the unresponsive disc to go on. I even remember which cut scene it was: the one just after you receive Ramuh (our PS1 could just not handle the glass flying everywhere). Thankfully, it did restart after a few minutes.
The reason I am using a fancy term like “archives of memory” is less about my own memories of the game and more about the way mythology and memories of past civilizations are threaded through the Final Fantasy games. From an exploration of time in FFVIII to the disease of forgetfulness in Crystal Chronicles, many of the later games are underpinned by issues of time and memory. FFIX in particular, as a retrospective of the entire series up to that point, dramatizes history and memory in a variety of ways which seem to alert the player that Square was saying “goodbye” to the old formula and a bygone era. It is a retrospective which signals the end of an era, a whimsical foray into the histories of one of the world’s most beloved RPG series. FFIX is an archive of the series, and its near obsessional dealings with memory and archives emphasizes that.
Firstly, of all the Final Fantasy games, I think that FFIX has some of the most mysterious mythologies and hidden histories. The initial question of “what is Vivi?” (or should we say “who?”) proceeds onto the the nature of magic, summoners and summoning… these are questions that are actually deeply explored throughout the game, through locations and architecture as well as through conversations between characters – even music. Princess Garnet’s song recurs and gains meaning throughout the game as we learn more about her lineage and her summoner ability. When we find the mysterious Madain Sari ruins, and discover her connection to it, her song replays.
Every location seems partially lost or forgotten – disconnected from other civilizations. What we have are remnants of the past, layers which we, as players, have to discover and connect with other knowledge through exploration of the world and universe.
The “faces on the wall” at Oeilvert in Final Fantasy IX is fascinating example of this. It is an archive of memory which details the founding of Terra, the civilization which existed 5000 years ago on Gaia. A series of faces on the wall speak, showing holographs as records of Terran history – it was an advanced civilization which was, ultimately, dying. I sense that this scene stages many of Square Enix’s anxieties about the franchise. Final Fantasy IX was the last “classic” Final Fantasy game, and borrowed liberally (and lovingly) from past games, not least with its chibified characters and whimsical tone. The faces dramatize issues to do with digitization, memory and the way old histories can be reincorporated in the present, things that clearly were very important for Square to move on.
Another quick example is the number of books on show! Though the Final Fantasy games always feature shed loads of books, Final Fantasy IX is replete with libraries and literature. This furthers the feeling of depth and history of the cultures represented in FFIX, as well as evoking the dusty, historical atmosphere of a Final Fantasy game which is built on the shoulders of other games in the series. The scholars you encounter throughout provide you with tasty tidbits about the origins of magic and summoning. It is as if Square is returning to the legends and myths at the centre of Final Fantasy, experimenting with what kind of coherent back story could cover magic, monsters and creatures like Quina.
As much as I love FFIX, I understand that Square needed to move on, a fresh start and all that. Something “modern” for a new generation of consoles. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what was lost by exorcising all those Final Fantasy spirits through FFIX, and whether the later games have even a quarter as much soul. I’m a traditionalist at heart, and so I’m one of those girls who loves old Disney, books, quiet places and sentimentally conservative games. I can’t let go. In many ways I’m still that 12 year old, nose pressed against my TV hoping for the disc to restart – hoping for the old magic of Square to return.
As one of the three JRPGs I’ve ever finished, FFIX holds a place as one of, if not the best in the genre I’ve played. And such an enchanting world it was, and one that left so much to the imagination, while alluding to explanations of the world in others. Vivi is a great example, and it is through this relatively open interpretation of what these character races are that the writing of WHO they are and their own personal histories really shines through. And for me its these amazingly illustrated characters, and the bond i formed with them almost in parallel with the bonds they were forming between themselves, really defined the experience for me.
A really fantastic post, thank you!
Thanks for the compliment! The characters are one of my favourite aspects of the game too – the gradual development of these stereotypes into fully fleshed out characters over the course of the game. And they’re all going on the same journey of learning about who/what they are at the same time, but in such different ways. It’s a simple thing but so many RPGs drop the ball with character development. It helps that the characters are all flawed but likable… also no voice acting.
Duuuude, great post! FFIX is the most formative game of my life, too. Easily. It’s the best.
I haven’t posted in a while, but this has inspired me! If you wanna read more about FFIX, come check out finalfantasyix.com 🙂 always looking for more fans of the greatest game ever!
Thank you for the kind words! It’s an amazing game and there’s so much to say about it. I have some ideas for a follow up post, so watch this space. It’s really nice to find someone who may just be more passionate about FFIX than me! I’m looking forward to reading your future posts.
I noticed you mentioned the lack of voice acting being a good thing in these older games – one of the first posts on my blog is called “Hearing Voices”, and it’s all about VO vs speech bubbles; I’d recommend it!
I just created an account to thank you for encapsulating this game for me. I am old enough to have played the other final fantasies first but FFIX is just so perfect (ffx is very close!) but man, the characters, the music, the settings, the villains (not counting the WTF WHO ARE YOU last boss).
P.S. Hey does anybody remember the playonline system!? My book is now specifically used as an artbook which is a shame since it is mostly a *GO TO THIS PAGE TO FIND OUT MORE* when everything is dead book :*(
Thank you very much for the kind words. When I wrote the post I really just wrote it for myself, not expecting anyone else to find this and remember the good ol’ days. I’ve been really touched by the reception it’s had and also just impressed there are so many FFIX fans to this day! I also had a walkthrough book – but it was a Prima guide book and so it wasn’t reliant on an online system. Thank goodness!
I found a mirror of it for ya – http://devils-inc.uhostfull.com/Resources/Emulation/Final%20Fantasy%20IX%20PlayOnline/nav1.html
Hope this helps 😉
FFIX was one of the last one’s i played in the series but it is definitely one of the best. I liked how much it respects everything that has come before but still feels fresh itself. Seeing ao many references to previous games had me super excited and not to mention Vivi is one of the coolest characters in the series.
Thanks for commenting! I agree with you – it was the only 3D FF game which attempted to replicate the feel of the older classics, but with the 3D, cutscenes etc it ended up becoming something totally different. I think Vivi is a contender for the most loved FF character in any of the series ever – he’s just so awesome.
As a nod to past titles, Garnet’s character arc has the party go on a side-quest to Madain Sari at the start of Disc-4 to find out her real name at the Eidolon Wall.
Yes, well observed. Appreciate the comment!