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In many ways, Final Fantasy IX is the perfect game for times of transition or insecurity: The entire game is an elaborate coming-of-age story. Every character in the player's party faces some social upheaval or existential crisis that tests their identity, and they all come out on top in the end. Zidane and Vivi, for example, come to accept that they are both clones designed to serve as shock-troopers for the various political forces trying to outmaneuver one another in the background of the game's plot. Princess Garnet and Eiko, however, are both orphans. Their dubious parentage drives their respective subplots, and they both emerge stronger and more independent as the game unfolds.
Final Fantasy IX's magical, medieval-steampunk fantasy world was a distinct shift away from Cloud and Squall's gloomy futurism, and the game's ending is - depending on your disposition - guilty of being maudlin or saccharine: Final Fantasy IX is an unceasingly cheery, optimistic game. Still, if Final Fantasy IX's uplifting story was therapeutic for me, that's not what stands out about my memories of that time.
I think I found comfort in Final Fantasy IX's familiarity, no doubt, but also in Zidane's ineffable, unfaltering march to power.
I think I found comfort in Final Fantasy IX's familiarity, no doubt, but also in Zidane's ineffable, unfaltering march to power. Gaia is a world over which I have unparalleled dominion. I know every nook and cranny. I've toppled every beast, righted every wrong, and collected a vast hoard of gold, weapons, and armor. In a time when I was feeling lonely, isolated, and set adrift, it was nice to have a world I could easily bend to my will; a place with predictable rules set up to guarantee my success.
This is the great promise of the Japanese role-playing game: If I make smart choices, work hard, persevere, and put in enough time, I can become powerful enough to save the world. Futhermore, that world will be grateful to me and reward me for my sacrifices. Every character in Final Fantasy IX lives happily ever after, their stories buttressed up by a set of mechanics that success and happiness not only attainable, but inevitable.
Playing Final Fantasy IX that fall was also an acute reminder that the grandmother I'd spent so long resenting was helping pay for my education. My mother and I would later joke that she had helped with my tuition out of spite, and that she might have enjoyed knowing how lost I was in a strange land of plaid shorts and boat shoes.
Still, Final Fantasy IX is a touchstone for my relationship with my grandmother and the way it vastly improved after I moved four hours away and became the first of her grandchildren to graduate from college. It would be trite to say that my appreciation for my grandmother can be pinned solely on Final Fantasy IX, but it certainly stands at the midpoint of the arc of our relationship.
It's fitting, then, that Final Fantasy IX was a boon to me during a time of upheaval and transition, a way of taking stock of, and reevaluating, the past. The game performs a similar function for the series as a whole. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi called IX his "favorite" in an interview with IGN, explaining that it "is based on a reflection of all the previous works in the series."
"It's closest to my ideal view of what Final Fantasy should be," he said.
I bought a new house last year, and my grandmother came to visit. Over pizza one day, I announced my plans to quit my day job and freelance fulltime. She was surprisingly supportive, but as I plunge forward again into the unknown, I know it won't be long before I hear Nobuo Uematsu's tinkling arpeggios again.