The Hunting Festival is a monster slaying contest. Monsters are released into the city and everyone competes for kills. It sounds a bit dire, but this is Final Fantasy, so you never feel like you’re doing something bad. Zidane and Freya both joined the contest, while Zidane also registered Vivi into it.

For most of the hunt, I’ve been lagging behind, since I started out at the Theater district, where there’s very few monsters to fight. Once I cleared that and the Industrial district, I finally got to the Business District where most of the monsters were.

Final Fantasy IX, Mu

The Mu creatures are cute, but they gave me points.

At this point, I got seriously ahead, but eventually ended up fighting an extra strong monster with Freya. If you’re fast enough, you can kill this one to, but I wasn’t, so the time was up before the battle was  over. Still, I won and got my reward, which was money for Zidane. I should have probably let Freya win, in which case I would have gotten an accessory.

During the award ceremony, a Burmecian soldier entered the room wounded, saying Alexandria has attacked Burmecia with an army of black mages. Everyone agrees Zidane, Freya, Steiner and Vivi should get there as soon as possible, while Dagger needs to stay behind just to be safe.

Of course, Dagger didn’t agree to that, so she drugged everyone except Steiner and decided the two of them should go to Alexandria to talk to her mother. They left and eventually, the other woke up. Our next stop is still Burmecia, but we’re going there without Steiner.

The Regency of Lindblum is a huge city if plenty of places to explore, items to collect and features to discover.

First of all, the story was advanced, quite a bit. Cid, the regent of Lindblum is apparently Garnet’s uncle. He already knew there was something going on in Alexandria, so he was actually the one that hired Tantalus to kidnap Garnet. He has a problem, though. Someone turned him into an oglop, which is some Final Fantasy insect or some other type of vermin. He can still talk, walk and do all of that, but his mind is a bit weaker because of it and they have been keeping it a secret from the public.

Final Fantasy IX, Lindblum, Grand Castle

The titles are really effective. It adds a lot to the atmosphere.

I’ve spent most of the time in Lindblum exploring with Zidane, meeting new characters, discovering areas such as the Tantalus hideout in the Theater district and stocking up on items and equipment. In the upper part of the business district, I visited the weapon shop and, more importantly, the synthesis shop.Anyway, Garnet stays in the castle, while the rest of the group is left to explore. At a bar in the business district, I’ve met a future party member, a dragon knight of Burmecia named Freya. From what I can remember, she’s another hard hitter like Steiner, but she doesn’t have as much health. She makes up for it with Dragon magic, though, which has a lot of useful spells.

Synthesis is a special feature of Final Fantasy IX. It allows you to combine multiple pieces of equipment or items to create a completely new item. Thanks to the nice sum of gil I’ve accumulated since leaving Alexandria, I managed to get some very nice weapons and armors for most of my group. By far the strongest thing I god was The Ogre, which is a double bladed dagger for Zidane.

Final Fantasy IX, Zidane and Garnet

Zidane and Dagger shared a nice moment here.

Speaking of daggers, I forgot to mention that before they entered Dali, Garnet decided to rename herself to Dagger as part of her cover. I should probably start calling her that from now on. Anyway, after a lot of exploring, I went to meet Dagger at the castle, before I entered a contest called the Hunting Festival


When everyone got to the ship and Steiner decided to get to the upper deck, it was immediately clear he didn’t trick anyone. Both Garnet and Zidane figured he was lying and the ship was actually heading to Alexandria. Of course, Zidane was planning to turn the ship around.

He went to the upper deck to do just that, but soon after, the third and final Waltz attacked. All of the manufactured dark mages decided to go and fight it for some reason, but it destroyed them easily. Garnet had to sit this fight out, because someone needed to pilot, so instead, I used Vivi to heal with potions. He was getting hit hard by the Waltz every time I tried to cast a spell with him, so it was probably for the best. As usual, Zidane did the stealing and Steiner did the damage. The Waltz was down soon, but not dead yet.

Final Fantasy IX, Black Waltz Charging Up

Just beautiful!

In any case, we finally got to Lindblum. The story will get a lot more complicated now, and I’ll finally get access to a cool new feature – item synthesis.The scene shifted to a small ship following the group, piloted by Zorn and Thorn, the queen’s fools. Waltz scares them off and takes their ship, starting a pursuit. Both ships race for the southern Lindblum airship gate, but only the party’s ship manages to get through before it closes. We got away, but the gate got severely damaged in the process.

The village of Dali was another beautifully designed area. The area seemed like something straight out of a fairy tale, but as it soon turned out, it had a dark secret.

Final Fantasy IX, Village of Dali Intro

I love these intros.

I got back to the village and payed the innkeeper. Everyone decided to go for a walk, which meant I had plenty of ATE’s to watch. Garnet was trying hard to act like a commoner so no one would recognize her, Steiner did his own thing, trying to find a way to get Garnet back to Alexandria and Vivi was simply admiring the sights.The group decided to stay at the local inn, so that’s what we did. Before I did it, though, I decided to leave the village and get to the lighthouse nearby, where I remembered from my last play through I could get some items and hints of a side quest. There was an old man there who collected rare coffee beans, so he offered me a miniature of the Tantalus ship in exchange for some beans. I didn’t have any yet, but I made not of this so I could return later. As I said, there were some items, but nothing really important.

Throughout these events, it was becoming obvious the villagers had some sort of issue with Vivi, and eventually, he gets abducted. I went to look for him with Zidane and Garnet and soon found a latter leading into the underground.

Bellow the village was a large factory, creating something out of the mist, or possibly using just using mist to power the machines which were creating something – I didn’t really understand this part completely. I found Vivi locked in a box and decided to keep exploring to figure out what was going on. Eventually, the horrible secret was revealed. The villagers were creating black mages which looked very much like Vivi. This is why they abducted him – they thought he was one of them. Even worse, they were being produced for Alexandria.

Final Fantasy IX, Village of Dali Factory

Seeing this made Vivi very upset.

The fight wasn’t to hard, thanks to Garnet not being targeted at all the entire time. Zidane just kept stealing, while Steiner and Vivi did the damage.In the meantime, Steiner got to the lighthouse by himself, to ask the man there when the next ship to Alexandria will be arriving. It just so happened that one ship just landed (we’re talking airships here) to pick up the latest merchandise. Everyone regrouped at the landing site and decided to get on it after Steiner told them the ship was going to Lindblum. Before we could get on, though, we had to fight another Black Waltz, Nr. 2 this time.

After a short rest, I got to the overworld map for the first time. There wasn’t much I could do, though, other than going to my next destination. My final goal was Lindblum, but in order to get there, I had to ascend the mountains somehow. Luckily, Blank pointed me at the direction of the Ice Cavern.

Final Fantasy IX, Ice Cavern

I’m still amazed at how beautiful this game is, even today.

On the bright side, I managed to do plenty of training in this area. I also managed to get all of the items here, I think, mostly thanks to Vivi’s Fire magic, which allowed me to melt some of the ice walls and get to the chests behind them.The Ice Cavern is an area which reminded me of one gripe I always had with this game. It doesn’t always happen, but some of the areas in Final Fantasy IX have annoyingly frequent random encounters. Nothing annoys me more than making a wrong turn after a battle, moving two steps back and then entering another random battle before I could advance further on my path at all.

Eventually, I got to the top of the cavern where everyone faints due to the cold. Somehow, Zidane manages to wake up and follows the sound of chimes into the next room. This is where I had to fight another boss, or two of them, to be more precise.

Final Fantasy IX, Black Waltz & Sealion

Two against one, but I was just about to trance, so it wasn’t hard.

The cold winds the Waltz was creating stopped, so everyone woke up and we could finally leave the cavern. Next up was the village of Dali.The boss was Black Waltz Nr. 1 and there isn’t much I get to find out about him before he attacks. The peculiar thing is, apart from having wings, he looked a lot like Vivi. In any case, he summoned a monster named Sea Lion (which does not look very much like a regular sea lion) and I was forced to fight both of them.  The first few turns, I just kept stealing until I got all of the items from both of them. Luckily, I had plenty of potions to heal through the damage, so that wasn’t a problem. Just about when I stole the last item, Zidane went into a trance, so I used his Tidal Flame to kill both of the enemies at the same time in a couple of hits.

By the way, I’m not sure if I already said this, but I decided to play this Final Fantasy without prior research or online guides. Of course, I used guides on my first play through, so I have memories of some of the secret stuff in the game, but most of it is to hazy to be very useful.

As I said, the ship crashed into a forest nearby. The problem was, it was the Evil Forest, mwahahaaha!

Zidane was thrown out of the ship to somewhere nearby, so he went back to it immediately. Garnet and Vivi weren’t so lucky, which the game tells me through a unique new feature I wish they’d bring back in other games of the series – the ATE.

ATE stands for Active Time Event. Basically, every now and then, you get the option of pushing select to see what’s happening in some other place or what some of the other characters are doing while the main character is separated from them. Most of the ATE’s are optional, so if you’re just in a hurry and want to move on, you can skip them. If you’re interested, though, the feature allows the story to be told a bit differently compared to the rest of the series.

Final Fantasy IX, Evil Forest

Every new location gets a nice looking title screen.

I gained a level or two on the next screen and then continued on to the second screen, where I met Vivi and Garnet. The thing chasing them was an evil plant and it took Garnet away before I could kill it. Before anyone could react, another one arrived and tried to take Vivi, but we managed to kill this one. It infected us with something, though, so everyone fainted to wake up back at the ship.In any case, through an ATE, the game tells me Vivi and Garnet are in trouble, being chased by… something.  I couldn’t get into the ship yet, so I went in the only direction available – into the forest. Before that, I saved the game with the help of the moogle who explained the ATE feature to me.

Zidane decided to go after Garnet, so I had to speak to the boss, Baku, to get permission. I actually had to fight him, one on one, but he wasn’t to hard to beat. I took Vivi and Steiner with me and continued past the screen where the last battle was. Soon, I got to a pond where I could restore my health for free and had a moogle available to save my game, so I took some time to train for a bit.

Final Fantasy IX, Evil Forest Fountain

Moogles help you save the game.

The boss was dead soon and a bunch of smaller plants started chasing us. I managed to avoid most of them, but some battles were unavoidable. Luckily, the plants were easy to deal with. Soon, a sequence began where the forest starts to petrify entirely. Everyone runs, but Blank decides to stay behind, to hold the monsters off and gets petrified to. Before it happens, he throws the map of the Mist Continent to Zidane.A few screens later, I finally got to the boss. This was another plant, this time bigger and stronger than the last. Zidane spent most of the battle stealing the monsters items, while Vivi used Fire and helped Steiner use his Fire Sword ability. This is another cool feature of Final Fantasy IX. Whenever Steiner and Vivi are both in the party, Steiner gets access to the Magic Sword set of abilities. Basically, whichever spells Vivi has learned, Steiner can use to give his attacks an elemental affinity.

OK, first of all, this needs to be said. The graphics in this game are amazing, considering the platform it was released on and the other two Final Fantasy games of the generation. Square really managed to squeeze every last bit of power from the hardware and combine it with excellent design and style perfectly. Comparing this game to Final Fantasy VIII looks like comparing two different console generations. Secondly, it’s apparent from the start the game has a huge amount of charm. They tried to capture that childhood nostalgia and they succeeded.

Final Fantasy IX, Garnet

The jump in FMV quality was even more astounding.

The start of the game is mostly storytelling. The main character is Zidane, who is just a regular guy with a tail. He’s a member of Tantalus, a theater troupe that doubles as a gang of thieves. They arrived to Alexandria from Lindblum on their theater airship. They will be acting out a popular play but have been hired, at the same time, to kidnap the princess Garnet Til Alexandros XVII.

Final Fantasy IX, Puppet Show

I bet!

The story then switches to a small black mage called Vivi. He arrives to Alexandria with a ticket for the show, but it turns out it’s fake, so he joins forces with a rat kid and manages to sneak in to the show from the walls.This introduction also includes a tutorial battle against the troupes boss wearing a dragon mask. The battles in this game include four characters at once, which is also a return to the older games, from the Nintendo era. There’s a large emphasis on stealing from bosses. They usually hold items you can’t get otherwise until later in the game, so it’s usually a good idea to try and get them. Since Zidane is a thief, he usually spends most of the battle stealing.

Final Fantasy IX, Vivi Orunitia

Vivi is one of my favorite characters in the whole series.

Everyone realizes what’s happening and the queen orders fire on the ship. The troupe manages to get away, but the ship is badly damaged so they crash in the area under the mist, in a forest.Zidane and his friend, Blank sneak out during the show and disguise as guards to enter the castle. The thing is, the princess decides to run away anyway, so she ends up outright asking Zidane to kidnap her. They start running, but the princess’s loyal knight, Steiner, follows, thinking she needs help. Thanks to Blank continuing to pose as a guard and distracting Steiner, they manage to get to the ship. They clash with Steiner there, get mixed up with the play and in the meantime, Vivi gets to the stage trying to run away from a guard asking for his ticket.

Guess what?

Final Fantasy IX, Title Screen

Best title screen ever, with the best title screen music ever.

Yup! After completing Final Fantasy VIII for the very first time in my life, I decided to make the experience complete and restart the final Final Fantasy on the platform. Final Fantasy IX is considered the best one on the PlayStation by many, and I certainly hold it in good memories. I wonder how it will hold up in a modern environment, though.