Celebrating over 20 years since its initial release in 2000, Final Fantasy IX retains a lasting presence and relevant message. (Warning, may contain spoilers.)
Final Fantasy IX was officially announced back in January of 2000 at the Square Millenium event alongside Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XI. This would be the last Final Fantasy title to be released for the PlayStation One as well as the last of the single-digit titles, as the series was now celebrating its advancement into its milestone 10th and 11th (And first online) installments and beyond. In light of this, Final Fantasy IX was created with elements to serve as a tribute to the previous eight games and the series’ history as a whole.
Carrying the legacy of the series on its back, Final Fantasy IX was a huge success and is regarded to this day as one of the best Final Fantasy titles and one of the greatest games of all time. Out of all fifteen main series games, it currently possesses the highest Metacritic score of 94%. From its locations to its characters to even its smallest allusive details, Final Fantasy IX was the exceptional salute to the series it was intended to be. While the game achieved this purpose, it moreover cemented its own name with its captivating narrative, enjoyable gameplay, and highly evocative themes. For many, its presentation exceeds that of just normal play, giving audiences something more valuable that becomes more apparent with time: A message about life.
Life and death are incredibly heavy terms, and both have many different interpretations. Each individual has to essentially come up with their own denotation as to what life and death truly are. While this may be going deep, it’s imperative to acknowledge that this search for what it means to live and to die are the core themes of Final Fantasy IX. From its storyline to each of the playable casts’ personal conflicts, the motifs of life and how to live are at the center of it all.
Many of the Final Fantasy IX characters, namely the playable cast of Zidane, Vivi, Princess Garnet (also known as Dagger), Steiner, Freya, Quina, Eiko and Amarant, each have their own personal struggles they deal with throughout the course of the game’s events. Each of their personal dilemmas are actually directly addressed as early as the game’s menu sequence, showcasing graphics for each character which name their central emotional conflict as well as giving a quote. The conflict of the main protagonist, Zidane Tribal, centers around virtue and his search for his role in the world, or as he words it, his “place to call home.” This is something he shares with Princess Garnet, who is also conflicted over her origins and past as she prepares for a life as the queen and protector of the Alexandrian Empire. Many of the other playable characters also share this similar plight in that they struggle to understand their place in the world, whether it’s (in Steiner’s case particularly) a clash of one’s sworn duty versus a sense of integrity or, in reference to Amarant’s character arc, the struggle to seek more out of life than just being “stronger” than others. Freya must learn to live after experiencing the crushing loss of her home kingdom and essentially her lover, who no longer remembers her, while Eiko, having spent most of her life alone as the last of her civilization, must decide whether or not to leave behind the home she’s always known and protected in order to seek out her own path and desires. Even the gourmand Quina, who is considered more of a comical presence, must learn there is more to life than eating. With each of the main characters withholding an emotional need that centers around their finding their distinct “purpose” or the figurative “place to call home,” the message regarding the elements that give one’s life meaning are placed at the forefront of the game. While the entirety of the main cast is an embodiment of this, it is the characters Vivi, a playable party member, and Kuja, the main antagonist, who are the most significant when understanding this theme of Final Fantasy IX.
Vivi Ornitier and Kuja are characters who were artificially created to fulfill a certain role and both possess a fixed and short lifespan. The difference between these characters and the other members of their respective races is the formers’ self-awareness. Kuja was definitively made to be more powerful and cognizant than those of his race in order to fulfill a specific task; however, he was deemed a failure, as the nature of his birth rendered him unable to experience complex emotions and obtain the ultimate power in Final Fantasy IX known as “Trance.” Vivi on the other hand, a black mage, was made to become a war vessel who could carry out destructive activities with highly offensive magic, however he became separated from the other black mages in his early stages and instead was nurtured in an environment that would enable him to develop his own consciousness.
Vivi and Kuja’s personal conflicts of existential crises stem from their intended purpose as tools at the disposal of others. Both struggled with their reason for living, albeit in different ways. Vivi, who started out as timid and distressed over the truth of his origins, initially despaired over his and the other black mages’ reason for being and their fate to an early death. However, throughout his journey with Zidane and the others, he begins to learn the value of friendship, the desire to protect his loved ones, and the merit of overcoming hardships together, ultimately finding his own “place to call home.” Vivi eventually overcomes his fears over his existence and, in spite of its brevity, resolves to live his life to the fullest and create cherished memories to keep him alive in spirit.
Kuja, on the other hand, has a slightly different approach to his life as a product and his mortality. For most of Final Fantasy IX, Kuja is selfish, grandiose and prideful, feeling that the world should not exist without him. This stems from his inability to develop complex feelings, the very root of what made his manufacturer deem him a failure. This would also serve to fan the flames of Kuja’s anguish and instability, as his self-perceived superiority is rendered fallacious in this sense. Fearing death and the idea of fading from existence, Kuja resolves to destroy everything instead, effectively going against the master who created him and refusing to fulfill his intended role. While his actions were pernicious in nature, the very idea of Kuja challenging his fate and going against his predestined purpose illustrated the value of choosing one’s own path. It is even directly addressed in the game that Kuja’s refusal to simply go along with whatever was decided “for him” inspired individuals to understand they can be more than what is ordained for them by others. Essentially, Kuja lived the way he chose to.
Vivi and Kuja’s personal journeys regarding their existence depicted the idea of life as being what one makes of it. Ultimately, Vivi and Kuja had to decide what being alive and dying meant to them. This is something that’s also acknowledged by main protagonist Zidane, who struggled similarly with his own purpose yet grew into a stronger individual who shared this sentiment with others who questioned their place in the world. Through its eclectic cast of characters that each depicted some kind of existential dilemma, Final Fantasy IX effectively discussed the meanings surrounding life and death. Additionally, the main musical motifs are aptly named “Melodies of Life” and “A Place to Call Home,” directly framing these themes.
Carrying broad and deep motifs about life, Final Fantasy IX remains impactful even 2 decades after its initial release. The message revolving around how one chooses to live is incredibly relevant in modern times, even inspirational. The actual extent of these themes in Final Fantasy IX goes even deeper into the roots of the story plot itself, garnering a solid and touching experience for many who play the game. A complete package of engaging gameplay, unforgettable characters, and an emotionally evocative story with a valuable message, Final Fantasy IX cements itself as a monumental title even 20 years later.