Alright, kiddies, no one reads this, but I want to at least finish my analysis of FF9. I had taken a break at the end of my last semester at EMU and then I lost my notes on this and kind of gave up from there. But the other day I was going through a random pile of papers and found my notes. So, as soon as the holiday season is over (aka I work retail and people are crazy), I’ll be finishing the cut-scene analysis I began 9 months ago.
Alright, back to the grind! (That’s a bit of gaming humor)
The next scene to analyze is cinematiclly breathtaking but it also plays with the other ideas I’ve been analyzing. But first, let’s take a moment to appreciate the sadness evoked here. If the game designer and the player are both doing their parts, then this should be a pretty traumatic scene. This youtube commenter certainly thinks so:
I cried the first time I saw this scene…I’ve never cried at a game before this, but the characters grew on me. Watching little Vivi take in all this death and carnage is shockingly tragic. – sailoryaoimoon
The music coupled with the slow-motion of the scene create much of the drama and trauma that the player is turned on to. Without being aware, the gamer is analyzing the scene. Why is it so tragic? I would argue it is tragic because it is a Marxist commentary on class among the ranks of the Black Mage. The Black Waltz 3, who is said to be far superior to the normal black mages somewhere in the game text, destroys his kind, his ‘inferiors,’ if you will. This disrespect for the lower class of black mage can be seen as a direct commentary on the class struggle presented in the imaginary world, parallel and complimentary to that seen in the earlier scenes in Alexandria. (One small detail to note, again we see Garnet ‘protected’ by the men, and boys, of the group.)
This is tied directly to the theme of power and its ability to corrupt that is presented in a few scenes beforehand and in the cutscenes to follow. Including this one:
Here we are presented with the binary of good/evil as it is told to us by the narrative. That’s the thing about video games, they’re very polarizing. The Black Waltz is clearly the evil while Vivi is the good. The narration here gives us an easy moral out. If Vivi is good and, therefore, against killing those who are like him as the ‘evil’ Black Waltz does, how can he triumph over evil? Here, he doesn’t have to. The power given to the Black Waltz – which is commented on in game text as ‘maybe too much’ – is his own downfall. The player doesn’t have to soil their hands and wrestle with the idea that, just minutes ago, caused so much grief and trauma to them. It’s rather ingenious. There are two other black Waltzes that the party has defeated, but none of the other Black Waltz massacred their own kind and drew such strong emotions out of the player. It’s almost a cop-out, but here this is necessary for the narration to maintain its potency.
Would it be easy enough to argue that the ‘hero’ had to kill the ‘villain’ to stop the ‘villain’ from killing more – the whole 1 death is better than 1,000’s. But the designers choose, and thus the narration of the story unfolds, in a manner less cliche and more emotionally powerful.
Perhaps it’s as good a time as any to point out the significance of the airship in Final Fantasy IX.
We’re first introduced to airships with the Prima Vera in the second cutscene (Here’s a link back if you missed that). It’s interesting to note the first appearance of the airship occurs simultaneously with the image of the bird. This is the first correlation of the airship to freedom, though it’s not hard to image a ship as a symbol of freedom. Take the escape from Alexandria and the next few cutscenes, escaping from a small town named Dali and the Black Waltzes, as prime examples of how the airship elicits freedom.
However, we can also see the Machine/Nature binary at work as we are given the juxtaposition of the two forms: a bird and an airship (In the second cutscene). This is even more poignant as the future plot is revealed. Turns out Airships run on this mysterious substance known as mist that coats the continent of Gaia. Only problem is that the mist also creates monsters, including Black Mages. Oh, but wait, there’s more. (SPOILER ALERT, though, to be fair, if you’re watching the cutscenes without playing the game you’re getting spoiled anyway) Anyway, it is later revealed that the mist is created by the Lifa Tree and the mist is actually the souls of the dead.
Let’s put that into perspective for a second. Airship = Freedom. Airship needs mist to work (at the beginning of the game anyway). Mist = souls of the dead. So, Freedom requires death? Did you follow all of that? In order for mankind to achieve air travel through airships there must be death. This implies that the industrialization of the world requires sacrifice. Reading into this allows us to further the strange triple binary of Man/Machine/Nature, all at odds with one another but unarguably connected.
What we see in this cutscene is a furthering of the freedom/airship relationship as the ship is steered away from its original destination, Alexandria, and toward the freedom Garnet has been seeking, her uncle Cid and his city of Lindblum. And the player is left with the image of Black Waltz 3, a commander, if you will, of the Black Mage army that Queen Brahne controls.
I’m going to end the airship post here so as to start a new focus in the next post. But don’t forget about the Airship, it plays a crucial role later on and is something that will constantly be popping up in cutscenes.
So, for now, Happy Gaming!
Listen as the wind howls through the Evil Forest. In the three cutscenes in this post, the player sees the ominous nature of nature. Or at least that’s the way it’s portrayed in the Man/Nature binary we’re analyzing. Even in this first cutscene, the art style being much darker than the previous and the static background mixed with moving foreground and action animations ( the smoke) we’re left with a very uneasy feel. This is completely intentional of the makers and the music (or lack there of in the first scene) adds to this beautifully.
While this cutscene is short, only 14 seconds, it reaffirms the Nature/Man(Machine) binary but adds an interesting twist to it. We learn that nature is alive. The pulsing of the petals of the flower as well as of the red glow are all symbolic of a heart. And the cutscene is aptly named ‘The Plant Brain.’ Oh, and if nature isn’t quite alive enough for you yet, we get some creepy moving vines in this scene. But, nothing really proves sentience quite like the next cutscene, which is full of fun things to analyze. Take a look:
The first thing we need to take note of are a few plot details. Garnet was captured by the Evil Forest (quite literally held in a cage of vines on top of a monster see the image to the right). So we are, once again, seeing the ‘rescue the princess’ theme rearing its mario-esque head. Why it’s important to note of is because Vivi was also captured by the same type of plant monster. But, what’s this? Vivi is running alongside the other men while Garnet is 1. passed out and 2. being carried. How interesting.
And then comes the onslaught of the praying-mantis-rose creatures. They can be seen as the actualization of the popular metaphor of roses being beautiful but at the same time quite dangerous. And as if we needed more prodding into the Man/Nature binary, begin with the tentacle vines of doom. Of course, this onslaught is all with good reason; after all, Zidane, Vivi, and Steiner just destroyed the heart/brain of the forest. Talk about Metaphor.
There’s, of course, the character building happening with Zidane and his friend Blank, the one who gets petrified, (talk about significance of names) but more importantly, we see the petrification of the forest. So, after a few short hours, maybe a day, of human contact in nature, and the forest is completely destroyed. Talk about social commentary.
Well, did I miss anything? Let me know by leaving a comment and adding to the discourse!
Alright, from the last cutscene to this one there’s got to be a bit of an explanation. It’s really quite funny how it works out. So, Tantalus – the gang of Bandits riding aboard the Prima Vera – was hired by Cid (A recursive character in the FF series, more on that here), Garnet’s uncle and the Regent of Lindblum, to ‘kidnap’ princess Garnet from her Mother because Brahne has become a little… mad, we’ll say. Zidane, the fellow with the tail for those unfamiliar with the game (also the main character), is a part of Tantalus and he is ordered to kidnap the princess while the rest of Tantalus tantalizes the Queen and the Kingdom with a riveting performance of “I Want to be Your Canary.” The thing is, Garnet is not going to sit around and wait to be kidnapped! She’s a modern woman, if you will. So, she sneaks out of the balcony where her mother is seated to stowaway on the Prima Vera. Now, enjoy the cutscene and I’ll continue on the other side.
We’re back. Did you spot all of the themes? Let’s break it down: First, there’s the power play of Garnet physically domineering over Zidane. She has managed a bit of a role reversal here which is furthered by Garnet’s strange request (Garnet asks Zidane to kidnap her: Watch the scene here). She is not being kidnapped because her Uncle wants her to be, she is being kidnapped because she wants to be. She has taken control of her own life instead of sitting by and letting it happen. Of course, (if you watch the extra clip), you’ll see that she is still portrayed as helpless – she needs help from others, specifically those operating within the Patriarchy. But at the same time, we see the Patriarchy subverted by the ineffectiveness of both Zidane, to catch her, and Steiner, to protect her (The first six minutes of the extra scene features gameplay and dialogue illustrating the incompetence of men in Alexandria. In fact, one of the lines says “Wimps like you are the reason nobody relies on men in Alexandria” @1:52).
At this point, Zidane and Garnet have appeared on stage in front of the Queen (accidentally) and she is not ready to lose her daughter to the airship. We get an opening shot of the winged figurehead, our symbol of freedom but also of feminine freedom. This is followed by a ton of collateral damage as Queen Brahne attempts to keep the ship from escaping. Also note Zidane holding Garnet as the chaos ensues but poor Vivi is left alone. Another way Zidane and Garnet fall into the Patriarchal schema. Near the end of the cutscene we are also shown Steiner joining in on the ‘protection’ of Garnet.
This scene, and the next, lend themselves well to a Marxist analysis. As the hooks land in the airship and pull it catawampusly back, it swings into the surrounding buildings filled with nobles and the rooftops filled with peasants. We see here that the class distinction between the two is unimportant when one of a high enough class is involved. The Princess is the only life that matters to the Queen, the rest are unimportant and are treated as such. This is most evident when Brahne releases ‘the bomb’ – and no, this isn’t the 2000’s ‘da bomb’, it’s a bad thing (a bomb is a monster in the FF series that does exactly what you would expect, it explodes. For the different varieties of bombs through the game series, and an explanation of how they work, click here). As you’ll see in the next cutscene, the bomb explodes.
Boom goes the bomb, and look how happy Brahne is. This is the first time we see Brahne’s insatiable appetite for power. The explosion undoubtedly killed people on the airship and people on the ground. But! Through the smoke comes our symbol – the figurehead, a little worn-out and covered in soot, but persevering. It’s a bittersweet victory for our heroes however, as is shown on Garnet’s face and the soundtrack. We’re left with the Airship sinking and the eventual crash-landing into Evil Forest. And, no, I’m not making that up. It’s called Evil Forest. The creators are practically shoving the Man/Nature binary down our throats at this point, but to a certain extent it’s necessary.
Enjoy the crash-landing into the Evil Forest and prepare yourself for the next set of cutscenes!
The fifth cutscene is packed with images to analyze! So, have a look and an analysis!
The first image is that of Alexandria Castle at night with the double moons. Harkening back to the idea of the castle as a symbol of the Patriarchy and a phallus (Read my initial analysis here), the double moons at the base of the sword tower of Alexandria is now, more than ever, a phallic symbol. It could be argued that this is the peak of the power the Patriarchy has over Garnet (as she will be subverting it very shortly). The player will also note the opposite colors of the moons. While blue and red are not exact opposites, the ideas they relay – Red: violence, blood, hate Blue: calmness, purity, justice – are at opposition in the story. It is interesting, then, that these two opposites, a sort of ying and yang, if you will, come together with the sword to form the penis of Patriarchy. There’s a certain dependence upon other circumstances for the Patriarchy to prosper.
Shortly hereafter, we see Puck, a street urchin, and Vivi sneaking into the back of the theater to watch the performance. What isn’t shown is that most of the Kingdom is there. The rooftops are shown to be literally lined with the poor who could not afford a ticket. The contrast between just Puck’s dress and the noble’s seated in front of her is jarring. What’s more, is that the chairs they’re seated in look amazingly ornate. This separation of class is the beginning of a Marxist analysis which runs through out Vivi’s storyline.
And then there is Brahne. The Queen of Alexandria, who is, a bit, um, how do you say this nicely? Homely. But, she is a female of power in the story and it would be in line with a feminist analysis that she does not fall into the ideas of the Patriarchy’s perfect woman. I think we can all agree upon that. However, there’s something, strange about her. A bit androgynous and childlike. She delights in the festivities celebrating her daughter’s birthday more than her daughter. If I were a feminist, I would be apprehensive to claim her as my own so quickly. In fact, through future cutscenes we will find that she is actually operating within the Patriarchy and furthering their ideals.
It is interesting to note, however, that Alexandria has two Captains of the guard – it’s because Alexandria has two guards. The more elite (and the enemy in the beginning of the game) are the female guards led by Beatrix (who doesn’t show up in any of the cutscenes until the last one). Then there is Steiner, the over-mascaraed comedian. Steiner is made a fool of more often than not and it can be interpreted as Alexandria’s attempt to debase the Patriarchy. Steiner is a bumbling buffoon while Beatrix is powerful, sure, and wears an eye patch. She’s such a BAMF!
Lastly, Steiner is a picture of the Patriarchy because he is devoted entirely to ‘protecting’ the princess (who actually needs a lot of protecting throughout the game – as per usual). Even in this cutscene we see how Steiner thinks he knows what’s best (the Patriarchy) and yet it does no good. If you watch as Steiner ‘pulls out his sword’ (all innuendos apply here) in an attempt to make Garnet happy you’ll see it fails miserably. As would be expected in a Kingdom who is trying to subvert the Patriarchy.
Well, that’s all for now,
My all-time favorite Final Fantasy character: Vivi! And this next cutscene is his introduction! Other than that, there’s not much to the cutscene.
The scene does, however, slightly foreshadow future events. When Vivi is immersed in the shadow of the Prima Vista airship, it foreshadows Vivi’s inevitable entanglement with the bandits of the Tantalus. This scene, along with the next one, set up an interesting Marxist analysis for the next few scenes as we are shown the difference between classes in Alexandria.
Cutscene 4 is barely worth commenting on, but I will post it here in case I have missed something and for completionism. If you find something worthwhile, please comment!