Final Fantasy IX has touched the hearts of countless individuals over the 20 years that it’s been out and its story and cast are held up as examples of the greats even today. It has a cartoony, cutesy aesthetic that belies its darker themes and despite a few shortcomings in the gameplay area, it deserves its place as an iconic piece of videogaming history.
Something that I particularly love about the game is how it deals with, explores, and teaches the player about one thing: love. Love is such a classic theme in RPGs that you barely think about it – it’s a box to tick when recommending the title to your friends or writing a review and suddenly need to think of all of the game’s themes. But what’s impressive about Final Fantasy IX is the extent to which is delves into the concept of love.
Ardent fans of Yuri on Ice or people paid attention in Catholic school (I am both) will know that there are multiple types of love. And while this is obvious to pretty much anyone, most people won’t know that they have names. In Greek. Because the Greeks loved to name things.
And Final Fantasy IX is a crash course in all of them.
EROS is the first type I’ll look at. It’s romantic love. This theme is sown throughout the entire narrative of Final Fantasy IX and is present right from the beginning. I Want To Be Your Canary is a play about two star-crossed lovers whose story ends in tragedy — the play is overdramatic and stressed to the point of parody, and the farce that happens in-game sets up Zidane and Garnet beautifully as romantic leads. Their relationship is at the core of the game, developing naturally through shared experiences of strife and trauma that make the couple a believable one. By the time we get to Pandemonium and witness Zidane knocked out of his funk via Garnet’s unwavering support (literally a Curaga spell) there is no doubt that Final Fantasy IX is a romance, through and through.
They are not the only couple, and the many different ways that eros can develop are exemplified through supporting characters. Freya and Sir Fratley’s story is a heart-wrenching tale of how romantic love can ruin a person. Freya deals with spiralling obsession and yearning after the disappearance of her beau and their story plumbs the depths of hopeless love. Then there’s Regent Cid and Hildagarde. Theirs is a classic tale of betrayal and scorn that shows a fiery side of romantic love that contrasts really well with Freya and Fratley. It’s the fiery Lindblum red to the wet Burmecia blue. And right in between is the Alexandria purple, signified by Steiner and Beatrix, whose romantic realisations make for a wonderful high note during a particularly low sequence in the game. The game knows that love is something that can lift up the spirits in times of strife and this battle couple is very good at that.
PHILIA is the second love and is the love shared between friends. Companionship runs through Final Fantasy IX like a river and we perfect examples of philia both already conceived and developing throughout the narrative. Tantalus is a great example – the theatrical rogues are a tight-knit group who can easily banter with each other in one moment and then feel safe relying on each other in the next. While their link is not as strong as a familial one, what with membership being so obviously conditional, even when a person leaves (such as Zidane or Ruby) the rest of the group show that their companionship, their friendly love has not disappeared.
We see this, too, in Madain Sari with the collective of Moogles who live with/under Eiko. They’re an odd bunch of characters but they survive well together and have an air of camaraderie that cannot be denied. Contrast this with the bond between Lani and Amarant; they have a working relationship but are obviously close enough to work in such a profession together. Their bond is less expressive, but still obvious. Philia is a stark brand of love that lends itself to displays not common in other loves. It’s easier to comprehend characters like Eiko and Baku doling out tough love and aggression when you understand that philia isn’t always born of emotion, but of experience.
The greatest example of philia is the party themselves. We also see hints of this with the Knights of Pluto.
STORGE is the third love and was termed the “empathy bond” by C.S. Lewis. This is familial love. Not necessarily familial by blood, but of having the same hallmarks as familial bonds – dependency, reliability, and turbulence. Final Fantasy IX is full of familial relationships that run the gamut from the healthy to the downright doomed – Puck and his worried father, Quina and their supportive parent, Cid and Hildagarde’s adoption of Eiko, etc. We see this right from the first few hours of the game – the relationship between Garnet and Queen Brahne is obviously strained, and it’s not until the latter gets her dying words that we see there truly was love shared between them. It’s the type of love that cannot be broken by words or actions, because it’s made up of feelings, memories and, experiences that can’t be dispelled, and also of a need for storge that finds its roots in the depths of the psyche.
Storge is not necessarily a reciprocal thing. Vivi exemplifies this in his reminiscences about his grandfather. He respected his grandfather very much and appreciated all the things he got learned by living with him – in return, Quan was considering eating the young black mage. We also see this theme come up with Kuja and Zidane. Brothers in some way, Zidane can’t help but risk his life to save Kuja and while his motives are never exactly clear, a desire for storge – for a familial closeness that has been missing his entire life, could explain it. This is why I would brand Tantalus as having a bond of philia instead of storge, as it wraps up Zidane and Kuja’s relationship neatly. Or rather, as neatly as it could be.
AGAPE is the final type of love. This is a mother’s love, unconditional love, “love thy neighbour” type love. It is love, and respect, and both joy and pain simultaneously. Looking for agape is a difficult task to accomplish since it is rarely made the central theme of a piece of work, but we can find it in Final Fantasy IX. The party’s entire endeavour to save the world is agape in action – they risk everything they have to save a world that doesn’t necessarily care for them.
I would posit that Vivi is the largest example of agape in the entire game. He was dealt a worse hand than many on the world of Gaia and he still strives for goodness. He had a “grandfather” who planned on making him a meal, got treated like a doll and a terrorist by normal, decent people, and found out that he was a construct with a very limited lifespan – and yet he still struggles to make the world a better place for the people he cares about. Vivi’s love is selfless and unconditional, and this is likely why he worms his way into the hearts of so many gamers. There is plenty of love in Final Fantasy IX, but Vivi’s is the purest.
I am sure that there are other, perfectly valid interpretations of the various relationships in Final Fantasy IX. Some may frame Brahne’s dying words as last-minute regret, or think that Tantalus is a true brotherhood. This is really just my version of events and is just an example of how the game has touched me and made me think about the nature of life, love, and relationships.