Final Fantasy IX finds itself at a bit of an odd place in terms of the Final Fantasy series. Sandwiched between two titles that went for it with gusto in terms of ultra-realistic graphics and character depiction, Final Fantasy IX was a deliberate throwback to an older age of Final Fantasy, and, as such, it undersold upon its initial release.
However, as time has gone on, FFIX has slowly found itself to be one of the best and most enduring games in the franchise, and as Final Fantasy continues to move further and further from its roots, there’s a strange sort of comfort in coming back to a game like Final Fantasy IX.
It starts with the sort of whimsy that you see almost right from the outset in this game. A buffoonish knight with delusions of grandeur, a tiny wizard boy whose hat makes up half of his total height, and a monkey-tailed thief (who immediately calls to mind the action-packed absurdity of Dragonball) are among the first characters you encounter in the game.
Hidden among these wacky outliers, though, is the considerably more understated Princess Garnet. As a white mage, summoner, leading lady, love interest, and princess, Garnet seems to tick off a lot of boxes in the fantasy cliche department, and particularly in the Final Fantasy cliche department. And it’s true, from her initial introduction, Garnet is everything you’d expect her to be…that is, until you look a little closer.
Final Fantasy IX begins with Zidane and his plucky band of thieves descending upon the royal capital of Alexandria with designs on the princess, and a plan to kidnap her. As the plan is enacted though, all of the major players are thrown for a loop as Garnet proves to be considerably more resourceful than anyone imagined, escaping capture again and again, before announcing that it was actually her intention all along to escape on the theater ship that the thieves were using as cover.
From here, Garnet grows personally and professionally, as she learns both who she wants to be, and how to deal with the great power that is eventually thrust upon her in one heaping spoonful after another. Through one aching tragedy after another, Garnet (who begins to go by the moniker of Dagger) goes from princess, to summoner, to queen over the course of a very short period of time. Through this painful journey she is able to eventually shrug off the grand weight and responsibility of her many titles in order to become her own person, one who must occasionally be able to put her own thoughts and feelings above her position and stature in this kingdom.
Symbolized in one of the best moments of the game, Garnet shears off her long flowing locks in favor of a close cropped shoulder-length cut more akin to how she sees herself. She smiles as she lets the strands of hair drift away on the wind, and completes her journey as a character, from a stifled, manipulated tool of the monarchy into a full-fledged woman, capable of handling anything life throws at her.
Garnet isn’t the only woman in Final Fantasy IX who shows her strength of character as the journey unfolds either, there are several female characters who join her in this ranking, and each of them has their own reason for being included in this grand adventure.
First, there’s Freya, who has no qualms about joining the male-dominated Festival of the Hunt in Lindblum, and can even best the boys and win it herself. As a dragon knight, she is one of the finest warriors of her kingdom, and refuses to back down from any challenge, even stepping directly into one from the legendary “Flaming Amarant”, Salamander Coral.
A particularly admirable moment for Freya shows her strength of self, and her power of perseverance very early on, when as the rest of the party lays beaten in her decimated home of Burmecia, she still struggles against her fate, fingernails clawing against the pavement as she tries to get back on her feet and achieve justice against those who have taken so much from her.
Speaking of the above battle, there’s also Beatrix to consider. Leader of a formidable force of Amazon-like knights, and maybe the most intimidating character in the game, Beatrix handily puts your entire party down for the count not once, not twice, but three times. Even then, it isn’t until you appeal to her sense of reason and honor that she agrees to stand down and help you to achieve your purpose.
In fact the only reason that Beatrix doesn’t join your party is seemingly that she’s so ridiculously overpowered that she would have to be broken down by some deus ex machina storytelling convention to even be a balanced part of the party at all. Otherwise everyone else could pretty much just go home and let Beatrix, who once fought off 100 knights single-handedly, take care of everything.
Next up is Eiko, who at a mere 6 years old, is maybe the best feminist role model in the world for any little girl who doesn’t want to let her society dictate who she has to be. Outspoken, tomboyish, honest to a fault, and absurdly brave, Eiko has grown up fast in her lifetime, and it isn’t hard to understand why. As the only survivor of her tribe, even at her young age she is forced to take care of the moogles who have become her family, cooking and caring for them as though they were her children.
When she joins the party, though, its because she’s going after what she wants, and even if her romantic leanings for a boy over ten years her senior are obviously misguided, it’s the gumption and steadfastness that she adopts in hopes of ensnaring him that make her so admirable. Eiko is the kind of girl that won’t ever accept the laws of the land if they get in the way of her achieving her goals, and that level of ambition is a difficult trait to find in anyone, regardless of age or gender.
Finally, there’s Quina, for whom this article was named. Though a strange, food-obsessed, meta-human, who remains a bit of an enigma no matter how hard you look into their past, Quina is enamoring in their mystery, rather than limited by it. The notion that you never really know anything about Quina, outside of what s/he volunteers makes them all the more likable in a weird sort of way.
Quina, more than any other character in Final Fantasy IX is single-minded in their pursuit of what they want, and even if no one really understands what or why s/he is seeking exotic cuisine so relentlessly, no one attempts to deter them from their path, and no one ever bullies them for their obsession or their heavyset appearance. Unrestrained even by gender, it’s no surprise that Quina is the most carefree character in the game, and s/he is certainly one of the most prominent, if not the first, character to be outwardly agender in popular culture.
Populated almost exclusively with the sort of characters that would normally be ousted to the realm of obscurity and prejudice, Final Fantasy IX shows above all that there is no one too wild, too weird, or too out of the ordinary to make a difference. It’s a fantastic message, and one deserving of exploration and admiration especially in this, perhaps the most progressive and accepting era in human history.