Last time on FF9 Versus, we got to apply some of the wandering around and searching that we learned in spite of the game, and we finally got that combat that lets you test out some actual skills.
The story so far: The princess wanted to be kidnapped, everyone wound up on board during the play, and the ship got pretty much destroyed while fleeing Alexandria.
It’s time to get introduced to a few new game mechanics, and see some of the less civilized areas of the world. There’s a lot of stuff happening here, so I’m not sure how far I’ll be able to dive before I hit too many words and cut myself off. At the very least, we’re going to talk ATE and Trance. With some luck, we’ll talk magic, dungeons and world maps. Okay, here we go.
Before we get to the crashed ship, it’s worth making a quick mention of the sheer number of fmvs that happened on the way. There was the scene where Steiner chased Zidane and Garnet onto the ship. Shortly after, Queen Brahne launched the attack on the ship where the bomb was fired. Then The bomb exploded and the ship flew out of control. Amusingly, we get a single line game engine cutscene, where we’re informed by Cinna, “We’re gonna crash!” And one more fmv of the ship actually going down and a huge explosion happening.
Once all this has happened, we get a brief scene of Brahne being villain-ish, talking about some unknown experiment (which simply must be evil, since this is an RPG and they are avoiding explaining what it is yet), and then we finally get to run around the crash site as Zidane. After several explosions, it seems the biggest threat is actually the aptly named Evil Forest, so everyone needs to meet back up and get right out.
At this point, a moogle pops over to say high and introduce an element of this game that exclusively exists to enhance the story, and is entirely optional. The system is ATE or Active Time Event. With this system, you get to peak in on characters that aren’t part of the current party (or aren’t even main characters, for that matter). While older games would simply cut to a scene and make you watch it before bouncing back to your primary party, the ATE system lets you choose when (or if) you seen what other folks are up to. It helps that a lot of the scenes are either good for filling out the story or just cute and comedic.
ATE is probably my favourite mechanic in FF9, and it’s a shame that it seems to be unique to here. Who wouldn’t want a system that gives them the option to check in with all sorts of folks in the game world? And since it’s generally optional (there’s the rare required cutscene), it’s up to you if you want to see it.
Once the ATE into is over, Zidane is advised to go see about finding Garnet. Excluding the option to wander the ship and find all sorts of goodies, there’s only one screen between where you start and where the ATE just took place (and the rest of the gang is hanging out). Once you catch up with the gang, you find Vivi hiding in the corner (he’s a tiny guy, can you blame him?), Garnet captured by some plant thing, and Zidane and Steiner leap into action to save the day.
The battle starts with Zidane being covered in a crazy light, and once it fades he’s left glowing, fuzzy, pink, and looking a little like Terra from FF6. It’s worth noting that Terra’s special ability which transforms her into a glowing, fuzzy, pink half-Esper is called Trance (or Morph, depending on the version). Just figured I should mention that. Anyways, this fight serves as a free opportunity to test out how Trance works. For example, that orange bar under the green active time battle one fills up for Zidane, and goes down in large chucks with each action. Also notably, it changes Zidane’s Skills into ones that dish out some serious damage (less notably, these Trance Dynes seem to be fully unrelated to the Skills that normally occupy the same slots).
For those that earned a Mage Masher from an earlier encounter and already equipped it, there are a couple of options (a nice bonus for people that already know there way around RPGs and took advantage of it). For those that didn’t, the Flee Skill that prior to now has done absolutely nothing (since pretty much every fight up to this point has been non-optional) becomes Free Energy, and it dishes out some huge damage. The fight also features Garnet’s health being sapped by the plant monster, which it’s kind enough to tell you her current HP each time it happens (in case you want to heal her). There’s some added complexity to this fight, and even as it’s training you on Trance, the game expects you to know what’s happening as far as keeping Garnet alive. It’s an excellent addition of complexity that’s much welcome (interesting fights are far more fun than Steal-fests in my book).
[[Okay, I just looked at the word count, and we’ll cover Magic, and then we’re going to have to call it quits for now before this segment spirals out of control.]]
Once enough damage is done, the creature takes off with Garnet, and a new one captures Vivi, setting off a new training experience. This one is a little less of training/experimentation, and more of just showing, but to be fair, we’re had totally free reign up until now, and this is pretty important stuff if you don’t want the upcoming boss to be an excruciating experience. This fight is very similar to the one before, but instead of Garnet it’s Vivi, instead of Zidane going into Trance it’s business as usual, and instead of sitting there, Vivi blasts the thing with magic fire. The game is even kind enough to point out that “Magic seems effective.” which is true, but I have a feeling it’s more the fire than the fact that it’s magic fire. Since fire is the only spell you’re likely to have at this point, it’s all the same.
The game is very much spoon feeding you information that you’re going to need a little later, and hinting at things you will need to know all game. The very clear present message is that upcoming plant monsters should probably be attacked with magic for an easy fight. The long term hint, which is a very important one for newcomers to the RPG genre is the idea that certain monsters have certain weaknesses. Finding and exploiting those weaknesses is the vast majority of combat in this particular RPG, so it’s great that they included this tidbit. And while it is obvious on the present message, they were kind enough to include it as a general hint and let you puzzle out the greater significance. Ah, puzzles in RPGs. Good times.
So, next time we’ll find out what happens when the battle is over, and how about I buckle down and finally get us out through this starting stretch and on to some proper progression and gameplay?