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Friday, July 6, 2007

Final Fantasy IX

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Final Fantasy IX
The North American box art of Final Fantasy IX.
North American box art
Developer(s)Square
Publisher(s)JPN Square
NA Square Electronic Arts
UK Square Europe
EU Infogrames
AU Square Europe
Designer(s)Hironobu Sakaguchi (game producer, original concept)
Shinji Hashimoto (game producer)
Hiroyuki Itō (game director)
Shukō Murase (main character designer)
Kazuhiko Aoki (scenario writer, event planner)
Yoshitaka Amano (original character designer, image illustrator, title logo designer)
Nobuo Uematsu (composer)
Hideo Minaba (art director)
SeriesFinal Fantasy series
Release date(s)JPN July 7, 2000[1]
NA November 14, 2000[2]
EU February 16, 2001[3]
AU February 22, 2001[4]
Genre(s)Console role-playing game
Mode(s)Single player, limited multiplayer
Rating(s)CERO: A (All Ages)
ESRB: T (Teen)
USK: 6+
OFLC: M15+
ELSPA: 11+
Platform(s)PlayStation
MediaCD-ROM
InputPlayStation controller

Final Fantasy IX (ファイナルファンタジーIX Fainaru Fantajī Nain?) is a console role-playing game developed and published by Square (now Square Enix), and the ninth installment in the Final Fantasy video game series. It was released in 2000, and is the third and last numbered Final Fantasy game for the Sony PlayStation video game console.

Set in a fantasy world of Gaia, Final Fantasy IX's plot centers on a war between several nations, sparked by an ambitious queen. Players follow a young thief named Zidane Tribal, who joins with several others to defeat the Queen. The plot shifts, however, when the characters realize that the Queen is a puppet for an arms dealer named Kuja.

Final Fantasy IX was developed alongside Final Fantasy VIII, but took a different path to return to the series' roots with a more traditional fantasy setting. Consequently, Final Fantasy IX was influenced heavily by the original Final Fantasy, and features allusions to other Final Fantasy games. Final Fantasy IX introduced new features to the series, such as the Active Time Event, Mognet, and a revamped equipment and skill system.[5] The game has been subject to generally positive reviews and is considered one of the best games in the series.[6] However, the game received mixed reception for its return to the style of older Final Fantasy games.[5]

[] Gameplay

In Final Fantasy IX, the player navigates a character throughout the game world, exploring areas and interacting with non-player characters. Most of the game occurs in towns, dungeons, caves, and similar areas, which are referred to as "field screens".[7] To aid exploration on the field screen, Final Fantasy IX introduces the "field icon", an exclamation mark appearing over their lead character's head, signaling that an item or sign is nearby.[8][7] Players speak with moogles to record their progress, restore life energy with a tent, and purchase items[9] — a deviation from previous installments, which used a save point to perform these functions. Moogles may request that the playable character deliver letters to other Moogles via "Mognet".[7]

The field icon indicates that an object can be inspected, as is the case with this ticket booth.
The field icon indicates that an object can be inspected, as is the case with this ticket booth.

Players journey between field screen locations via the world map screen, a three dimensional, downsized representation of Final Fantasy IX's world presented in top-down perspective.[7] Players can freely navigate around the world map screen unless restricted by terrain, such as water or mountains. To overcome geographical limitations, players can ride emu-like chocobos, sail on a boat, or pilot airships. Like previous Final Fantasy installments, travel across the world map screen and hostile field screen locations is interrupted by random enemy encounters.[7][6]

Final Fantasy IX offers a new approach to town exploration with Active Time Events (ATE), which provide character development, special items, and prompts for key story-altering decisions.[7] At specific points, the player may view events that are occurring simultaneously. ATE is occasionally used to simultaneously control two teams when the party is divided to solve puzzles and navigate mazes.

[] Combat

Whenever the playable character encounters an enemy, the map changes to the "battle screen". On the battle screen, the enemy appears on the opposite side of the characters; each battle uses the familiar Active Time Battle system that was first featured in Final Fantasy IV.[6] The character's command list is presented in a window opposite the ATB gauge list; while all characters can physically attack the enemy or use an item from the player's inventory, they also possess unique abilities. For instance, the thief Zidane can steal items from the enemy, Eiko and Garnet can summon "eidolons" to aid the party, and Vivi can use black magic to damage the opposition.[7]

In this early boss battle, Steiner attacks the enemy while Zidane awaits the player's input.
In this early boss battle, Steiner attacks the enemy while Zidane awaits the player's input.

These character-specific commands change when the player goes into "Trance mode", which is activated for a short duration when an uncontrollable gauge fills as character sustains damage in a style similar to the Limit Breaks used in Final Fantasy VII. When the gauge is full, the character's strength is amplified, and the player can select special attack commands.[5] Zidane's "Skill" command list, for example, changes to "Dyne", allowing him to execute powerful attacks; Vivi's "Black Magic" command evolves into "Double Black", allowing him to cast two magic spells simultaneously.[7] Through the Configuration screen, the player can change the Battle Style from Normal to Custom, which allows for two players to control two characters during battle. However, two controllers must be plugged into the PlayStation.[5]

A character's performance in battle is determined by numerical values ("statistics") for categories such as speed, strength, and magical power. Character statistics are driven by experience; when players win battles, they are awarded "experience points", which accumulate until characters gain "experience levels". When characters "level up", the statistics for their attributes permanently increase, which may also be amplified by the types of equipment the character is wearing. Winning battles also awards the player money (Gil), Tetra Master playing cards, and ability points (AP).[7]

[] Equipment and abilities

Final Fantasy IX deviates from the style of customizable characters featured in the last two titles by reviving the character class concept, which designates a character to a certain role in battle.[10][11] For instance, Vivi is designated as a black mage and is the only character who can use black magic, and Steiner is a knight and is the only character who can use sword skills.[5][7]

The basic function of equipment in Final Fantasy games is to increase character attributes; arming Zidane with a Mythril Vest, for example, increases his base defense statistic. In Final Fantasy IX, weapons and armor include special character abilities, which the character may use once the item is equipped (permitting that the ability matches their class). Once the character accumulates enough ability points in battle, the ability becomes usable without having to keep the item equipped.[7]

Abilities are classified into action and support categories. Action abilities consume magic points (MP) and include magic spells and special moves that are used in battle. Support abilities provide functions that remain in effect indefinitely (e.g., the support ability "Antibody" nullifies poisonous attacks), and must be equipped with magic stones to be functional. The maximum number of these stones increases as the characters level up.[7][5]

[] Plot

[] Setting

A geographical map of Gaia.
A geographical map of Gaia.

Final Fantasy IX takes place primarily on the four continents of a world named Gaia (synonymous with Final Fantasy VII's Gaia, but not the same world). Most of Gaia's population resides on the Mist Continent, named so because the entire continent is blanketed in thick mist. Lands outside the Mist Continent — the Outer, Lost and Forgotten continents — are uncharted territories not explored until midway through the game. Several locations on the parallel world of Terra and the dream land of Memoria round out the game's areas. The Mist Continent features four factions: Alexandria, Lindblum, Burmecia, and Cleyra. Each country is separated by mountain ranges; the Cleyra civlization, nestled in a giant tree in the desert, is protected by a constant sandstorm.

Gaia is inhabited by humans and various non-human races. The Burmecians are anthropomorphic rats who live in both Burmecia and Cleyra. The Cleyrans, who value dance, split from the Burmecians when the latter started to appreciate "the art of war". The dwarves are short humanoid creatures who appear as inhabitants of the village of Conde Petie on the Outer Continent. Genomes are soulless vessels who exist in Terra to wait for the restoration of Terra when it takes over Gaia; when this occurs, the Terran souls will enter the Genome bodies. Summoners are similar to other humans, but with a horn on their forehead. In the story, only two summoners remain (Garnet and Eiko); the others were exterminated during the Terran warship Invincible's destruction of their homeland of Madain Sari. Lastly, the Qu are large, seemingly androgynous humanoids,[12] who are recognized as fine gourmands. They inhabit marshlands throughout the world where they catch their main source of nutrition: frogs.

In Final Fantasy IX, the game's developers sought to make the game's environment more "fantasy-oriented" than its PlayStation predecessors. Since the creators wanted to prevent the series from following a redundant setting, Final Fantasy IX distinctly breaks from the futuristic styles of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII by reintroducing a medieval setting.[6] In the game, the advent of steam technology is just beginning to rise; the population relies on hydropower or wind power for energy sources, but sometimes harness Mist or steam to power more advanced engines.[13] Continuing with the medieval theme, the game's setting is inspired by Norse and Northern European mythology. According to director Hiroyuki Itō, "[The development team is] attracted to European history and mythology because of its depth and its drama".[14] The main Final Fantasy IX website says the development of the game's world serves as a culmination of the series by blending the "successful elements of the past, such as a return to the fantasy roots," with newer elements.[12]

[] Characters

Vivi, Zidane, Garnet, and Steiner in a full motion video sequence.

The eight main playable characters in Final Fantasy IX are Zidane Tribal, a member of a group of bandits called Tantalus and a womanizer; Garnet Til Alexandros XVII (alias Dagger) the Princess of Alexandria who has a strange connection to "Eidolons"; Vivi Orunitia, a young, timid, and kind Black Mage; Adelbert Steiner, the Captain of the Knights of Pluto and loyal servant of Alexandria and Princess Garnet; Freya Crescent, a Dragon Knight from the city of Burmecia; Quina Quen, a genderless Qu whose master wants him/her to travel the world so that s/he will learn about cuisine; Eiko Carol, a six-year-old girl living in Madain Sari, the lost village of the Eidolon summoners; and Amarant Coral, a bounty hunter framed for a crime committed by Zidane that he tried to prevent.[12] Other main characters include Regent Cid Fabool, the charismatic leader of the Lindblum kingdom; Queen Brahne, Garnet's mother and the power-hungry Queen of Alexandria; General Beatrix, the powerful leader of the female knights of Alexandria; and antagonist Kuja, an enemy of Gaia. Other minor characters and groups also appear; their significance and back-stories are revealed as the game progresses.

During development, the creators made the characters a high priority.[14]The return to the series' roots also affected the characters' designs, which resulted in characters with "comic-like looks".[14] Uematsu commented that they still attempted to give the characters realism while still appearing comic-like.[14] To accomplish this and to satisfy fans who had become used to the realistic designs of Final Fantasy VIII, the designers stressed creating characters that the player could still easily relate with.[14]

[] Story

Tantalus' airship, the Prima Vista, approaching Alexandria.
Tantalus' airship, the Prima Vista, approaching Alexandria.

Final Fantasy IX begins with Zidane and the Tantalus Theater Troupe kidnapping Princess Garnet during her sixteenth birthday celebration. The group learns that Garnet, who is concerned about Queen Brahne's increasingly erratic behavior, actually wanted to escape to Lindblum to meet with Regent Cid,[15]and had planned to stow away on the theater ship. The Troupe's airship, Prima Vista, is damaged during the escape; it crashes in the Evil Forest, prompting Zidane to continue the trek to Lindblum without the rest of Tantalus.[16] Zidane and Garnet are accompanied by Vivi and Steiner, who became entangled with Tantalus during their escape from Alexandria. During their journey, Garnet adopts the alias "Dagger" and struggles to mingle with the locals.[17] The group learns of a factory that is manufacturing soulless Black Mage warriors for Alexandria's use. Three powerful ones called Black Waltzes are sent by Brahne to retrieve Garnet by force, but in vain.

In Lindblum, Zidane meets Freya and joins in Lindblum's Festival of the Hunt. Regent Cid has been turned into a bug-like oglop by his wife Hilda, for his womanizing behavior.[18] Wishing to protect Garnet from Brahne's newfound aggression, he had ordered Tantalus to kidnap her.[19] When the group learns that Alexandria has invaded Burmecia, Freya investigates the situation with Zidane and Vivi, while Dagger and Steiner head to Alexandria to ask Brahne to stop the war.[20] Both parties are powerless to stop her, and Dagger has her eidolons forcibly extracted from her body.[21] Brahne uses Dagger's eidolons to destroy Cleyra, after which she attacks Lindblum, forcing Cid to surrender.[22] Zidane, Freya, and Vivi, after witnessing the assault on Cleyra, rescue Dagger, befriend General Beatrix, and return to Lindblum.

Bahamut approaching the Iifa Tree.
Bahamut approaching the Iifa Tree.

Afterward, Cid tells the party about Brahne's arms dealer, Kuja.[23] The party travels to the Outer Continent, the location of Kuja's headquarters, through an underground tunnel with the help of Quina.[24]There, the party meets a young summoner named Eiko, who assumes herself to be the last survivor of Madain Sari. They also discover a village inhabited by self-aware Black Mages. Their pursuit of Kuja leads them to the nearby Iifa Tree, an entity that dissipates fighting-stimulant Mist.[25] They also learn that Kuja uses Mist to create the Black Mages.[26] The party defeats the Iifa Tree's core and stops the Mist from flowing. When the party returns to Madain Sari, they confront Amarant, who was hired by Brahne to apprehend Dagger. Dagger slowly realizes that she is also a Summoner from Madain Sari. Amarant joins the party for his own reasons. At the Iifa Tree, Brahne turns against Kuja and intends to kill him with the eidolon Bahamut.[27] However, Kuja uses the airship Invincible to gain control of Bahamut, killing Brahne and defeating her army.[28]

The party returns to Alexandria, and Garnet is crowned Queen. Afterward, Kuja assaults Alexandria with Bahamut. Eiko and Garnet summon the legendary eidolon Alexander, who overpowers Bahamut. Kuja attempts to control Alexander using the Invincible, but is foiled by a mysterious old man named Garland, who destroys Alexander and parts of Alexandria.[29] Kuja, still intent on mastering a powerful eidolon to defeat Garland, shifts his attention to Eiko.[30] The party learns of Kuja's Desert Palace and attempts an assault. However, Kuja imprisons the party and escapes with Eiko to extract her eidolons. During the extraction attempt, Eiko's guardian moogle Mog uses Trance to transform into her true form, the eidolon Madeen, and defeats the process.[31] Learning of the powers of Trance,[32] Kuja escapes to further his aim of defeating Garland.[33] The party rescues Eiko and also finds Hilda, who turns Cid back into a human. He is now able to design an airship for the party that does not need Mist for power.[34]

With Hilda's aid,[35] the party pursues Kuja to Terra by opening a portal. In the Terran town of Bran Bal, it is revealed that Garland was created by the people of Terra to orchestrate the process of assimilating Terra into Gaia, as Terra was a dying world. Garland created Genomes — intelligent, sentient beings who lack souls — to become future vessels for the souls of the Terrans.[36] The Iifa Tree's existence,[37] the phenomenon of Mist,[38] the eidolon's destruction,[39] and even Kuja and Zidane's true purpose of existence,[40] were part of the process. Angered by Garland's motives, the party confronts him. However, Kuja has now obtained enough souls to achieve Trance.[41] Trance Kuja ends Garland's life, but not before Garland warns him of his limited lifespan, and that Zidane was created to replace him.[42] Enraged by this revelation, Kuja destroys Terra while the party rescues the Genomes and returns to Gaia on the Invincible.

Garnet and Zidane embrace at the end of the game.
Garnet and Zidane embrace at the end of the game.

The party discovers that Mist has returned and now envelops all of Gaia. Assisted by the combined forces of Burmecia, Lindblum, and Alexandria, they travel to the Iifa Tree, where they are teleported to a mysterious location called Memoria. The spirit of Garland guides the party to Kuja. When Kuja is defeated, he uses his Trance abilities to destroy the Crystal, the source of life,[43] prompting the appearance of Necron, the "Eternal Darkness" bent on destroying life.[44] After Necron is defeated, Memoria and the Iifa Tree collapse. Although the party escapes, Zidane remains to save Kuja, and is later assumed to have died with Kuja in the collapse.[45]

Some time later, Alexandria has been rebuilt, and Tantalus arrives in Alexandria to perform a play for Queen Garnet. During the performance, one of the performers removes his robe and reveals himself to be Zidane. The crs roll as Garnet and Zidane embrace. Other scenes reveal that Vivi somehow has children; Steiner and Beatrix have returned to their old posts as royal bodyguards; Eiko has been adopted by Regent Cid and Hilda; Freya is attempting to start over with her old boyfriend, Sir Fratley; and Quina has frequented the Alexandria Castle kitchen.

[] Development and release

The guide's list of armor urges readers to log onto PlayOnline for a complete listing.
The guide's list of armor urges readers to log onto PlayOnline for a complete listing.

Development of Final Fantasy IX began before Square had finished development on its predecessor, Final Fantasy VIII.[14] The game was developed in Hawaii as a compromise to developers living in the United States.[14] As the series' last game on the PlayStation, Sakaguchi envisioned a "reflection" on the older titles of the series. Final Fantasy IX is also considered by Sakaguchi to be his favorite game as "it's closest to [his] ideal view of what Final Fantasy should be".[46] This shift was also a response to demands from fans and other developers.[14] Additionally, the team wanted to create an understandable story with deep character development; this led to the creation of Active Time Events.[14]

In the game's conceptual stage, the developers made it clear that the title would not necessarily be Final Fantasy IX, as its break from the realism of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII may have alienated audiences. This led the Gaming Intelligence Agency to speculate that it would be released as a "gaiden" to the main series.[47] By late 1999, however, Square had confirmed that the game would indeed be published as Final Fantasy IX, and by early 2000, the game was nearly finished. The developers made several adjustments to the game, such as changing the ending seven times.[14]

Final Fantasy IX's release was delayed to avoid a concurrent release with rival Enix's Dragon Quest VII. On October 7, 2000, a demo day for the North American version of Final Fantasy IX was held at the Meteron in San Francisco, California.[48] The first American release of the game was also at the Meteron; limited ion merchandise was included with the game, and fans cosplayed as Final Fantasy characters in celebration of the release.[49] In Canada, a production error left copies of Final Fantasy IX without an English version of the instruction manual, prompting Square to ship copies of the English manual to Canadian stores several days later.[50]

The game was heavily promoted both before and after its release. Starting on March 6, 2000, Final Fantasy IX characters were used in a line of computer-generated Coca-Cola commercials. Figurines of several characters were also used as prizes in Coca-Cola's marketing campaign.[51] That same year, IGN.com awarded Final Fantasy dolls and figurines for prizes in several of their contests.[52]

Final Fantasy IX was also the benchmark of Square's interactive PlayOnline service. PlayOnline was originally developed to interact with Final Fantasy X, but when those plans fell through it became a strategy site for Final Fantasy IX. The site was designed to complement BradyGames' and Piggyback Interactive's official strategy guides for the game, where players who bought the print guide had access to "keywords" that could be searched for on PlayOnline's site for extra tips and information. This caused fury among buyers of the guide, as they felt cheated for the expensive print guide. The blunder made GameSpy readers' "Top 5 Dumbest Moments in Gaming" list,[53] and Square dropped the idea for Final Fantasy X, which was under development at the time.

[] Audio

The cover of Final Fantasy IX Original Soundtrack.
The cover of Final Fantasy IX Original Soundtrack.

The music of Final Fantasy IX was created by Nobuo Uematsu, his last exclusive Final Fantasy score. In discussions with Itō, Uematsu was told "It'd be fine if you compose tracks for the eight characters, an exciting battle track, a gloomy, danger-evoking piece, and around ten tracks or so." However, Uematsu spent an estimated year composing and producing "around 160" pieces for Final Fantasy IX, with 140 appearing in the game.[54][55]

Nobuo Uematsu composed with a piano and used two contrasting methods: "I create music that fits the events in the game, but sometimes, the event designer will adjust a game event to fit the music I've already written." Uematsu felt Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII had a mood of realism, but Final Fantasy IX was fantasy, so "a serious piece as well as silly, fun pieces could fit in." He felt the theme was medieval music, and was given a break to travel in Europe for inspiration - "looking at old castles in Germany and so on." The music was not entirely composed in the medieval mode, Uematsu claims that "it would be unbalanced" and "a little boring". He aimed for a "simple, warm" style and included uncommon instruments such as as a kazoo and dulcimer. Uematsu also included motifs from older Final Fantasy games "because Final Fantasy IX was returning to the roots, so to speak" and incorporated ideas such as "the old intro for battle music" and arranged the Volcano theme from Final Fantasy and the Pandemonium theme from Final Fantasy II.[54][55]

Uematsu was twice reported claiming without hesitation that Final Fantasy IX has his favorite score.[56][57] The original soundtrack for the game has 110 tracks; an additional soundtrack, Final Fantasy IX Original Soundtrack PLUS, was released with 42 more new tracks. Like Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy IX features a J-pop ballad, Melodies of Life. The song was composed by Uematsu, written by Hiroyuki Ito (as Shiomi) in Japanese and Alexander O. Smith in English, and performed by Emiko Shiratori. The song itself was sung in Japanese for the Japanese release of the game, and in English for the North American and European releases.

[] Reception and criticism

Reviews and awards
PublicationScoreComment
IGN
9.2 of 10
or's Choice
GameSpot
8.5 of 10

RPGFan
92 of 100

Game Informer
9.75 of 10

Edge
8 out of 10

Compilations of multiple reviews
Game Rankings
92 of 100 (51 reviews)[58]
Metacritic
94 of 100 (22 reviews)[59]
Awards
4th Annual Interactive
Achievement Awards
Console RPG of the Year[60]
Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction
Outstanding Achievement in Animation
6th Annual Golden Satellite Awards
Best Interactive Product/Videogame[61]

Final Fantasy IX, though a top seller at the time,[62] did not sell as well as Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy VIII in either Japan[63] or the United States.[64] Reviews for the game were generally positive, with praise to the graphics and nostalgic elements. The game was voted the 24th-best game of all time by readers of the Japanese magazine Famitsu[65] and 42nd by the users of the website GameFAQs.[66] Final Fantasy IX also achieved an average review score of 94% on Metacritic, the highest score a Final Fantasy game has received on the site.[59]

Reviewers pointed out that the strength of the game lies on the gameplay, character development, and visual representation. GameSpot noted that the learning curve is easily grasped, and the ability system is not as complex as in Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy VIII.[5] Each player character possesses unique abilities, which hinders the development of an over-powered character. GameSpot describes the battle system as having a tactical nature and the expanded party allowing for more interaction between players and between enemies.[5] Nevertheless, IGN disliked the lengthy combat pace and the repeated battles, describing it as aggravating, and RPGFan feels the Trance system to be ineffective as the meter buildup is slow and unpredictable, with characters Trancing just before the enemy is killed.[6][67]

The characters and graphics received positive reviews. Although IGN feels the in-depth character traits in Final Fantasy IX could be generally found in other Final Fantasy games, they are nevertheless engaging and sympathetic.[6] GameSpot finds the characters, up to their dialog and traits, amusing and full of humor.[5] IGN also noted that the Active Time Event sytem helps to expand the player's understanding of the characters' personalities as they question many ideas and emotions.[6] Their super-deformed appearance, which also covers monsters of every size, contain detailed animation and design. Praise is given to the pre-rendered backgrounds as careful attention is given to the artwork, movement and animations as well as character interactivity. The movies are seen as emotive and compelling, and the seamless transition and incorporation to the in-game graphics helped to move the plot well.[67]

On the other hand, critics acknowledged that the overall story is recycled from previous Final Fantasy installments and other role-playing games. However, the repeated elements such as evil kingdoms and enigmatic villains are believed by RPGFan as an attempt to emulate the elements of previous Final Fantasy plot and storyline.[67] The main villain, though considered by GameSpot to be the least threatening in the series,[5] is seen by IGN as a mixture of past villains through behavior and appearance.[6] Nevertheless, critics agreed that the audio of the game is of low-quality, being synthesized and recycled from past series. RPGFan feels the in-game sound effects "uninspired, dull and annoying", and the same is said with the music,[67] of which IGN and GameSpot acknowledge as lacking in substance and forgettable.[5][6] Criticism is thrown upon the composer who seemed to have only reuse and simplify the scores of past series. Nevertheless, reviewers have come to agree that this and many other elements are part of the overall effort to create a nostalgic title for fans of the older Final Fantasy series.[5][6][67]

The strategy guide also gained criticism; the book's given links are no longer accessible on the PlayOnline website, but Square-Enix backed up all the files for the guide and placed them in a new site.[68] Tetra Master was seen by GameSpot as inferior and confusing compared to Final Fantasy VIII's mini-game Triple Triad, as the rules for it were only vaguely explained in the game and there were very few rewards earned from playing it despite its extensiveness.

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