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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Wizards And Witches Week Continues...But First, A Dedication...

Before I go ahead with today's post, I'd like to briefly talk about something.  While the subject matter of today's blog really has absolutely nothing to do with this opening paragraph (which is why this is in Italics), it is something that given recent events, I have to speak about.

Yesterday, the former CEO of Apple Computers, Steve Jobs, passed away at the age of 56 after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer.  Jobs was responsible for many of the directions that Apple embarked in over the last few years.  Without him, we wouldn't have the iPhone, iPad, iTunes, and various other technological devices that millions of people use each day.  The contributions that he and his company made were nothing short of remarkable, and I am sure that his name will live on for many, many years.  I am sure that his replacement will keep the Apple name in business for many years to come, but Steve Jobs will never be forgotten.  As a little tribute to him, here's a commencement address he made a few years back to the Stanford graduating class of 2005.  I could go on about all the things he accomplished, but I think it would be better if we heard it from him...

Steven Paul Jobs
1955 - 2011

And, now, on with today's blog post.


There are billions of people living in this world, each one looking at the world through different sets of eyes. Each one seeing the world quite differently from that of someone else.

Some people are optimistic types, who look at everything in a positive manner, choosing to live their lives without letting anything bring them down. Others, are a little less positive, choosing to be grouchy and pessimistic about things, and seeing a need to bring others down to their level. Some people overanalyze things to the point of obsession, while others seem to miss simple signs and signals.

It's really a fascinating study, watching what makes people tick, and why people react the way they do.

One type of personality that always seems to get me to take notice are people who see things through child-like innocence. I guess I can understand those people more than other people can because in some ways, I kind of exhibit some of those traits. I don't really know how to quite explain it, but it always seemed to me as though I always saw things differently than some other people. That I could see things in a manner that they couldn't. In the past, I was accused of being naïve, or being ignorant because I couldn't see things the way that others did. But, that wasn't my fault...that was just the way I was. Maybe I attribute that to the rather sheltered upbringing that I had that caused it. Who can say?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I really do appreciate people who look at things through those child-like eyes. Eager to learn about everything in the world, asking questions about how things work, acting as if they're seeing the world for the very first time. I admit there's something endearing about a personality like that, because it's been my experience that people with that sort of personality is quite rare.

The reason why I wanted to bring this point up is because it fits in well with the character that I want to feature in this edition of Thursday Night at the Arcade. And, fitting in perfectly with the theme of Witches and Wizards week, the subject of this entry features a wizard with massive magical powers, combined with a child-like innocence, essentially learning about the world through the adventures that he had during the course of the video game.

The person I want to talk about is Vivi Ornitier, black mage from Final Fantasy IX, released in 2000 for the PlayStation console. The game was very successful both in Japan and North America, and sold millions of copies worldwide, and some hard core fans of the Final Fantasy series would likely tell you that the ninth installment of the series was one of the last great ones in the whole series. I would disagree with that, as I found Final Fantasy X to be fantastic as well, but that's just the minor RPG playing nerd in me just waiting to come out.

Anyways, the plot of Final Fantasy IX is almost exactly the same as the previous eight before it. You have to save the world from being destroyed by evil, rescue some people along the way, solve puzzles that will unlock weapons, and restore peace to war-torn communities. There are some differences though.

For one, the main villain constantly changes. It changes to the point where you aren't exactly sure who you may be fighting. Originally, the main villain is supposed to be Queen Brahne of Alexandria, but we find out that she's being manipulated by a man named Kuja. Then, Brahne sends her best knight, Beatrix, out to steal precious gems from various towns and kingdoms in the world, and ordering her to kill off your party, and later on Beatrix joins your side. Then there's Kuja, who as it turns out is being manipulated by Necron, who takes on the form of a gigantic tree known as the Iifa Tree, and by the end of it, you're completely lost on who is on your side, and who is against. But, in my opinion, that's what made the game great.

Secondly, the motley crew of people you have in your party comes from all sorts of backgrounds and races, even. Your main character is Zidane, who looks mostly human, but for some reason has the tail of a monkey. Other characters include a bumbling knight (Steiner), the princess of Alexandria (Garnet), a flame-haired criminal (Amarant), a six-year-old summoner (Eiko), a gigantic creature in a chef outfit that can swallow monsters whole (Quina), and a female soldier of Burmecia who happens to be a rat (Freya).

And then there's Vivi.

And when the game begins, Vivi is actually one of the first people we meet. He's small in stature, but extremely powerful magic wise. He even almost sort of looks like the part of a wizard with his pointy hat and flashy clothing. The only thing is that you can never really see what he looks like because his face is almost completely covered. All you see are two bright yellow eyes blinking back at you. It's almost kind of eerie in a sense.

Oh, but don't let this deter you from getting to know him. He really does have a heart of gold.

When we're first introduced to Vivi, it is in the kingdom of Alexandria, where he ends up getting mixed up with theater group Tantalus, from nearby Lindblum. All Vivi wanted to do was see a performance of their play 'I Want To Be Your Canary', but somehow, he ended up stumbling right into the theater group and their plot to kidnap Princess Garnet Til Alexandros XVII. When the theater ship that Tantalus boards is shot down and crashes into the Evil Forest, Vivi gets to know both Zidane and Steiner quite well, and they encourage him to embrace his magic powers so they can search for the missing princess inside Evil Forest.

Eventually, the group find Garnet, and after barely escaping Evil Forest, and traversing through a cavern made of solid ice, they end up in the backwater village of Dali, which upon first glance looks like a standard farming community. Little did the group know that this village would end up causing Vivi to question everything about his existence.

Sometime during the group's stay in Dali, Vivi ends up being kidnapped, and taken to an underground factory beneath the village. When Zidane and Garnet find their way through the factory in order to rescue Vivi, they stumble across something rather shocking.

So here's the situation. Apparently this factory is making dozens and dozens of what appear to be life-sized black mage dolls that seem to have their own minds and thoughts, yet barely say a word. They look a lot like Vivi, only taller, and with purple cloaks instead of the blue one Vivi is wearing. Naturally, Vivi is completely gobsmacked over this revelation. In many ways, these black mages are almost exactly like Vivi. They look like him, they cast magic spells like him, and yet, Vivi seems to be much different from them. He actually had a personality and feelings, while these copies didn't seem to have either.

Despite all this, Vivi seemed to feel some sort of bond with the Black Mage creatures, and tried to get them to open up to him, wanting to know where they came from in hopes that he too would understand where he came from. As part of the plot of the game, the group decides to leave Dali by stowing away on an airship en route to Lindblum, which also happens to have several of these black mages on board. During the flight, the group is attacked by one of Queen Brahne's Black Waltzes (one of three souped-up versions of the black mages being manufactured in Dali), and this scene happens.

For some reason, although the black mages that are destroyed in the attack didn't really do much in terms of communication, Vivi was still horrified at the sight. It broke his heart to see them get destroyed. It almost felt like he was losing a part of himself in the process. The attack on the black mages caused Vivi to develop the courage to take on the Black Waltz, and with help from Zidane and Steiner, the Black Waltz was defeated.

Still, having discovered the black mage factory, it really caused Vivi to question everything about himself. About what his origins were. About who his family were. When the group arrived at Lindblum and were filled in about the real purpose of the black mages, Vivi grew even more alarmed. Apparently, the black mages were being manufactured in Dali by Kuja, who in turn supplies them to Queen Brahne, who uses them as mindless soldiers in her quest to take over the entire Mist Continent. The mist from the Mist Continent is one of the essential ingredients needed to keep manufacturing the black mages, and the more mist is produced, the more black mages will be produced as well.

Of course, once Vivi discovers that the black mages are being used as nothing more than weapons, he wonders if maybe the sole purpose for his being alive was to become a weapon of mass destruction like the other black mage counterparts. Of course, Zidane, Garnet, and everyone else try to tell Vivi that this is ridiculous thinking. However, when Lindblum is later attacked by Brahne's army of black mages, the citizens of town seem to want to kill every black mage that crosses their path, leaving Vivi to hide out of sight for some time.

For much of the first part of the game, these questions seem to linger on in Vivi's mind. It almost seems as though he really is a lost child out in a huge world that he absolutely has no way of understanding. A lot of the ways of the world of Final Fantasy IX are complicated enough for adults to figure out, but imagine being someone like Vivi who grew up away from most of the conflict between kingdoms and settlements. Is it any wonder why Vivi was so confused and asked everyone a lot of questions? I mean, yes, Zidane and company tried to help Vivi out as they could, and Vivi did learn a lot about the world from the guidance and love his new friendships showed him. But something was missing.

It wasn't until they left the Mist Continent shortly after the attack on Lindblum that Vivi got the answers that he was looking for.

In the middle of a huge forest on the Outer Continent sits a hidden village. If someone can make their way through the maze-like forest, they'll find that they will enter a location that is surprisingly run by black mages.

No wonder the village is known as the Black Mage Village.

And unlike the black mages that were destroyed by the Black Waltz, the black mages here walk, talk, communicate, sell items, and take care of animals. Something that makes Vivi want to learn more.

Unlike Vivi, most of the black mages in the village are not named, but go by the number that they were given at the factory in Dali. It's unexplained as to how the black mages ended up there, but at some point became self-aware of who they were, built a town, and elected to live a life of peace until the day they 'stopped'.

Of course, Vivi had not heard the term 'when they stopped' before, and he went to investigate. He ended up befriending one of the mages, who went by the number 288, and he explained to Vivi that over time, the black mages stop working, and when this happens, they bury them in the ground. Some of the mage villagers seem to believe that they will come back up out of the ground, but what none of the villagers seem to understand (Vivi included) was that this was the way they showed death.

Like everything in the world, nobody had an infinite life span in the world. Black Mage No. 288 explained that after about one year, they would eventually stop (the black mage word for death). What's interesting is that when the stopped black mages were buried, they were given little memorials that resembled tombstones and memorial plaques. It was as if the black mages knew what death was, but didn't know how to explain it. Vivi is left confused by this though. If most black mages stopped after one year, why did Vivi (who supposedly is nine years old ) not encounter that same fate? It was explained by No. 288 that Vivi was perhaps one of the prototypes for the black mages, and was designed to live much longer than the ones produced after him.

This theory does make sense when you consider how Vivi originally grew up. Prior to Vivi arriving in Alexandria, he somehow ended up in a cliffside area known as Quan's Dwelling. Presumably, he fell off of a cargo ship en route to Alexandria, and ended up there. He was raised by Quan, a strange creature with an appetite stronger than that of Homer Simpson and Jughead Jones combined. Certainly, Quan showed him all about all the gourmet foods of the world, but he also taught Vivi the importance of setting out on his own to find his own destiny. When Quan passed away, Vivi set off on his own journey, presumably to Alexandria, where the game first begins.

This is interesting because we now understand why Vivi became so different from the other black mages, and why he has such a child-like way of viewing the world. It's because he grew up in a secluded place from all of the violence and war between the nations. That could explain why he seemed like he was so confused as to how the rest of the world was, and why he found everything and everyone to be so fascinating (in both good and bad ways).

But, I think it also explained why Vivi turned out so differently from the other mages. When the black mages were manufactured, they weren't given much in the way of nurturing. They served one purpose, and once that purpose was reached, they were rendered useless. But with Vivi growing up with Quan who cared for him and nurtured him (though admittedly Quan initially wanted to eat him when Vivi first came into his life), Vivi developed the necessary emotions and communication skills needed to fit into Zidane's group almost seamlessly.

When Kuja tried to mislead the black mages of the village into eternal life if they joined forces with him, Vivi immediately lead the charge towards making them see the truth. Once that was resolved, Vivi made a promise to the residents of the Black Mage Village that he would return after they dealt with Kuja to teach the residents of the village everything he learned from the outside world, both from Quan and his new friends. After all, the residents of the Black Mage Village had some skills that got them through the basics, but they were still very much the naïve, confused people that Vivi was at the beginning of the game.

By the game's ending, the fate of Vivi is somewhat undetermined. There are five black mages that look like Vivi that appear in the ending, but none of them are the real one. It is likely that Vivi himself 'stopped' some time after the end of the game, and that the five Vivi-lookalikes were his children (though it's never explained in the game how black mages were able to procreate).

But, for Vivi to grow into the person he eventually was really nice to see. And it certainly makes one rethink the way they treat people who may not be like everyone else, for in the case of Vivi, they ended up becoming one of the best role models of all.

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