|Final Fantasy IX owned by Square Enix.|
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- Your next destination, via the Hilda Garde III, is Ipsen's Castle. It's a topsy-turvey location on the far north tip of the western continent, in a small canyon. Mind that the airship needs to land on the greenery, not the rougher, brown terrain. Upon entering Ipsen's Castle you'll hit a cut scene, and Amarant will leave the party for the course of the dungeon. Choose your party and head inside.
- Check to the left once you're inside, between the pillars in the entry hallway, to find a chest containing a Dagger. This sets the tone for this area, as it's rather backwards - the weaker the weapon you have equipped, the more damage you'll do. If you still have your starter weapons, equip them on your team members now. This doesn't affect your magic, so continue to use powerful Eidolons and spells as you explore. Check also to the right for the Aquarius Stellazzio.
- Go through the door ahead and on your right. The next, large room has a Moogle, Kumool, who is expecting a letter from Mogki. Kumool is selling some weaker weapons, if you're lacking in proper equipment for your team. Across the room from Kumool is a chest containing Cat's Claws; you need to go beneath the bridge to get at it.
- Slide down the pool on the right side of the room. You'll wind up near an upside-down chandelier. Ignore the chest on the chandelier for now and walk into the background, where you'll find a ladder on your right. It leads to a door on the left.
- Soon you'll wind up on a ladder, and you can go up and down. Start by going up. You'll be prompted to go left or right; go left to get at a Javelin, then go right. This leads to a Broadsword. Return to the ladder and head down to the bottom. The path beyond leads to a second ladder, so start climbing.
- Jump off to the right to get at a Rod, then go up the next ladder to the door above. There's an elevator to the left in the next room, though you should ignore it at first and head towards the foreground. On your right is a peculiar wall sculpture of a man on a horse. Inspect it and you'll enter a series of triggers that you need to fumble your way through. Do the following in this order:
- Try something drastic
This combination will send you to the upper (lower?) balcony of the entry hall, where you'll find a Barette on your right. This isn't all you've done, but we'll come back to that in a bit.
- Return to the previous room and hop on the elevator. You'll see a cut scene with Amarant. Once he leaves, approach the wall mural in the background and grab the Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire Mirrors. Get ready for a battle on the way out.
This is a curiously easy battle. Taharka isn't much stronger than a standard enemy, and it relies on either physical attacks which aren't that strong or Blizzaga to do damage. Blizzaga is the only thing that does appreciable amounts of damage, though either Eiko or Dagger can heal it away easily enough. Taharka can also roll into a ball to negate physical damage, though it will eventually return to normal.
The normal way to defeat Taharka is to either wait for it to unroll and smack it around or use spells from Vivi or Quina to chip away at its health while it's rolled up. Fire works well. The fun way to defeat Taharka is to inflict heat status on it, either through Quina's Mustard Bomb Blue Magic or Steiner's Add Status / Flame Saber combination. Taharka will kill itself on its next turn. You can also put Taharka to sleep or silence it with several different moves, negating much of the danger Taharka poses. Regardless of how you get the job done, Taharka isn't difficult.
Zidane can Steal an Elixir, Mythril Claws, and an Orichalcon from Taharka.
- Make your way back out of Ipsen's Castle. Once you're in the entry hall, assuming you fetched the Barette earlier, you'll find a set of stairs beside the door leading to the room with the save Moogle. Enter it and you'll find a passage to a room with an Air Racket on your far left and an elevator in the middle.
- The elevator leads to a room with a Golem's Flute, an enormous, sparking sword, and two bottles. If you move the bottles around enough you'll get a message stating that you need to 'fight the flow of time', or some such. This is a hint to the puzzle of the room: you need to move the bottles from pedestal to pedestal in a counter-clockwise order, one at a time. Do this enough times and the sword on the wall will fill one of the bottles with an Ancient Aroma. This is an accessory specifically for Dagger, when she uses the Odin Eidolon.
- Leave Ipsen's Castle to trigger a cut scene. Zidane will run back into Ipsen's Castle, alone, for some reason. (I suggest using Flee, unless you're really overlevelled.) Look northwest of Kumool to trigger a trap that will dump you beside a chest. Inside is a Maiden Prayer.
- Hop down from the chandelier and you'll hit a cut scene if you explore the foreground. Amarant is now back in the party. Return to the room with the Moogle, climb the pole all the way up to get at the Fork and Mage Staff atop the chandelier, and depart the Castle.
The Four Shrines
Immediately after completing Ipsen's Castle the party will discuss their next move: infiltrating and unlocking four seals, in various places across the world map. You need to head to each location and drop off two pre-set party members, then guide Zidane and Quina (leftovers) to their own shrine. The shrines are in the following locations:
- The Water Shrine is directly south of Ipsen's Castle - you're pointed right at it when you gain control of the airship
- The Fire Shrine is on the northwestern continent, northeast of Esto Gaza and inside a volcano
- The Wind Shrine is on the western continent, at the extreme other end from Ipsen's Castle
- The Earth Shrine is on the northeastern continent, one stretch of land west of the Desert Palace
Zidane and Quina will be heading in alone, so if you haven't been using Quina much, you may want to spend a bit of time levelling him/her up. You should also consider either wearing Gaia Gear / Feather Boots or equipping Auto-Float, as both will trivialize the next battle. Make sure you change your equipment back after Ipsen's Castle! You'll look a fool if you go in carrying a Dagger!
Not as difficult as it seems, even though you have two characters. Earth Guardian uses physical attacks and the -ga spells every now and then, though its primary damage-dealer is Earthquake. Float will completely negate this damage, however, and Gaia Gear / Feather Boots will heal your characters instead. If you're getting healed there will be virtually no need for Zidane or Quina to go on the defensive. Smack Earth Guardian with physical attacks bolstered by Bird Killer or Devil Killer, or, if you have plenty of Blue Magic for Quina, use Aqua Breath. All in all, not that difficult a fight so long as you come in prepared.
Zidane can Steal an Avenger and a Rubber Suit from Earth Guardian.
Upon defeating Earth Guardian the Shimmering Island to the southeast of Esto Gaza will come to life and begin, well, shimmering. Hover over it with the Hilda Garde III and your party will leap in. Doing so triggers some of the final events of the game, however, and though you won't quite be locked out of the world map - not forever, anyway - many side dungeons will get cut off permanently upon your return. Make sure you've fully explored the world before making the plunge.
Part Twenty-Five: Terra and Bran Bal