Last time on FF9 Versus, we took a look at the first fight of Final Fantasy 9. There was some information revealed, and some opportunities missed.
The story so far: It turns out that Zidane is friends with some other thieves, and their boss is into masks and probably mentally unstable.
I would not want to work for this guy.
Okay, I’ve gotten pretty waylaid the last two times, but this time we’re actually going to make some progress. If my focus holds out, we’ll get up through Vivi’s first segment. Obviously, no guarantees.
So, the fight finished with Baku, the not-actually dragon-headed boss, the gang retires to the side room for the meeting. It’s here that we get our first required text focused portion and exposition. The group of thieves (which was already established by the initial fight where everyone knew steal) called Tantalus is on their way to kidnap the Princess of Alexandria, Garnet. Apparently they’re into stealing people as well as valuables. Their plan for doing so is by mimicking what may be the most iconic moment in the Final Fantasy series: FF6’s opera house. They’ll be performing a play, and sabotaging it with bugs, forming two distractions to make their abduction go smoothly.
This leads to the first choice you have in the game (excluding the option to light the candle or not), or at least the illusion of one. Even having this choice helps establish Zidane as a bit of a joker, since you were just told who you would be kidnapping. If you choose Queen Brahne, you get a humorous reaction from Baku, and are once again confronted with the exact same choice. In classic RPG tradition, you are being given a but thou must. I would say that no matter how many times you choose Brahne, it just loops back, but that’s not entirely true.
Well, if I’d known that before I chose Brahne, I would have just gone with the Princess.
For the extremely patient/stubborn, there’s a tiny easter egg if you’re willing to select Brahne somewhere in the range of 60 to 80 times (I tried keeping count, but it was painfully boring). A character that you normally wouldn’t meet for a while bursts into the room and yells at Zidane for being stubborn. It’s a cute little touch, and shows that someone on the dev team had a good sense of humour (why not include a tiny reward for the player willing to really try to stick it to the but thou must?).
Once you finally give in to the required option, the screen fades and a new fmv cutscene starts. We see a group of people moving through the streets of Alexandria. Once the camera lingers on our next main character (a small black mage), it moves back to the airship, heading over the town and towards the castle. At long last, we get the title screen.
The very next screen opens with a large crowd of characters heading North on the street. This is where we encounter our second instance of conflicting design. Remember the whole reward for slowly exploring in the first playable moments competing with the prompt on screen telling you to get on with it? This is in the exact same category as that. You see an entire crowd making their way towards something, but behind you lies the open square that we caught a glimpse of in the fmv sequence. Not only is the square (more of a circle, really) there, but several items and a statue giving us a tiny bit of history of the world.
As a person that stops and reads plaques on statues in real life, I love immersive touches like this.
You know, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this isn’t a matter of conflicting design. Maybe the designers just wanted to make it clear which way to go, but wanted to reward you for immersing yourself in the world in spite of knowing which way to go. Sadly, even if that was the intent, you still wind up with the conflicting information, which is confusing for people that haven’t played a large number of RPGs prior to now.
Anyways, this is the first time you get a hint of one of the game’s in your face (and eventually, required) minigames. In the open square, you find a couple of cards. For players of FF8, this is a tip off that once again, there will be a card minigame. For some players of FF8, this might be exciting, as the cards in that game made it possible to crack the game wide open and break it into pieces. For everyone else, it’s likely more of a “I wonder what these cards do? Will I be fighting Zombies and Lizard Men soon?” kind of moment.
In case you weren’t paying attention at the start, there are always people heading North on this screen.
Once you exhaust the square’s options and start following the intended path, you start to get a feel for Alexandria. There’s going to be a big production this evening, and you’ve got a ticket to get in. Talking to everyone it eventually becomes clear that you need to head to the ticket booth in the square to have your ticket stamped. The text really does go blue for ticket booth, just like critical information in a Zelda title. I feel like it’s pretty clear that you need to head there, and the colored text just comes off as odd instead of helpful. The entire next screen from where you hear that centers around the ticket booth, and you get a different screen when you walk up to it. But I guess just like the candle lighting prompt, they wanted to make sure you got the message.
I wonder if the place in different colored text is important?
The square contains minigame number one: a rope jumping game. It’s a cute little touch, and very unnecessary, which is always nice when it comes to minigames. There are plenty more people to talk to, but ultimately, you can only get so far until you finally give in and head to the ticket booth (which if you’re checking everything will come easily, and if you’re not, it’s pretty eye catching once you get to the screen that has it).
It’s here that we’ll pause, cause I’m getting out of control again. Next time: the rest of Vivi’s introduction, I hope.