Defeating Grand Dragons on Disc One of Final Fantasy IX
There are certainly easier ways to do it, but here's the hard way if you're up for a challenge.
A few years ago, I was watching a Let’s Play of Final Fantasy IX for a different kind of nostalgia than I can get playing it myself. Though I definitely played the game a lot as a kid, I also spent a considerable amount of time watching my oldest sister play through. Following a Let’s Play gives a similar feeling to that (though the gamer behind the camera in a Let’s Play is less liable to call me annoying and tell me to go away).
As I was watching through this Let’s Play, the player said something that made me laugh out loud. He was on disc one and was making his way through Gizamaluke’s Grotto. In one of the little side rooms off from the Bell Room there are two moogles, Mogmi and Moguta. Behind them, vines climb the wall, leading outside. Here, the gamer noted that the peninsula beyond offered random encounters with Grand Dragons, which are “impossible to beat on disc one.” (Paraphrased, since I can no longer find the Let’s Play on YouTube.)
Ha! I had beat those things on disc one as a kid. I mean, not easily – I wouldn’t be surprised if I had tried over a hundred times, and I know my extremely rare successes were based in luck rather than proper strategy. Still, I knew it could be done.
As an adult who has since replayed the game, I know a more reliable, modified version of my old “strategy” (which mostly just consisted of having one character with thunder absorption and nothing else). I also know that there are much more efficient strategies than my chosen one. Still, I like the intense challenge of my method, so I thought I would share with the world how I go about killing Final Fantasy IX’s Grand Dragons on disc one – the hard way.
This first step basically encompasses the entirety of my strategy when I was a kid, so I guess you could say it’s pretty important. During the Festival of the Hunt in Lindblum, let Freya win so you receive her prize of the Coral Ring. Whoever equips this ring will be able to absorb thunder damage, which will be a huge help against the Grand Dragon’s Thundaga attacks, especially the ones that target the entire party. This is the only way to prevent a full party wipe from a single attack against the Grand Dragons this early in the game.
As for who should wear the Coral Ring, I personally prefer Vivi. If done properly, he can get a spell that does a high level of reliable damage (see the next point on this list), so giving him a higher chance of surviving and allowing him to focus on attacking instead of healing is advisable. With this method, the only reason Vivi will ever need to divert from attacking is if everyone else in the party has gone down.
You might be thinking it’s a good idea to at least give other party members resistance to thunder damage with other items, but that’s probably going to be a waste of your time. Thundaga just deals way too much damage for 50% resistance to keep a party member alive on disc one, and you won’t have any other items that offer immunity or absorption yet.
This step is actually a few steps.
First, you need to play the Chocobo Hot and Cold game in Chocobo Forest until you find the Chocograph pieces “Healing Shores” and “Small Beach”.
Second, you need to find the location of the “Healing Shores” treasure. This will turn Choco light blue and grant him the Reef ability, allowing him to swim in shallow waters.
Third, find the treasure for the “Small Beach” Chocograph, which includes an Oak Staff.
When you equip the Oak Staff to Vivi, he can learn the spells Bio, Stop, and Drain. Bio is the spell we’ll focus on for this fight, as it deals roughly 1000 damage quite reliably. Grand Dragons have a little over 13000 HP, so attacking them with Bio alone would kill them in about 13 attacks, potentially faster if the Poison status takes effect.
Stock up on Phoenix Downs and Ethers. Phoenix Downs are necessary because pretty much everyone in the party will be dying repeatedly and it is absolutely brutal to be a couple turns away from killing one of these monsters and realize you’ve used your last Phoenix Down. Ethers are a must because Vivi is going to be burning through MP quite fast. Ethers aren’t available for purchase, however, so your best bet for this will be either rationing the ones you find up until this point, or playing Chocobo Hot and Cold until you find a few.
Don’t worry about potions or other healing – you’ll never have enough HP to survive a hit unless you over-level for this point of the game. As long as the party members are up, they’re good to go.
Make sure everybody in the party has the ability Antibody activated. This will nullify the effects of the Grand Dragon’s Venom Breath. As a result, whoever has the Coral Ring equipped can only be killed by the Grand Dragon’s Poison Claw.
It should be fairly easy to make sure everyone has the Antibody ability. Freya can learn this from the Bronze Gloves, but everyone else will need to learn it from the Glass Buckle. This will require either synthesizing three Glass Buckles or trading one Glass Buckle between characters until they’ve all learned the ability.
Glass Buckles must be synthesized. This can be done in Lindblum with 500 gil, a Leather Wrist (bought in Dali or Lindblum weapons shops for 200 gil), and a Glass Armlet (bought in Dragoo’s Armory in Lindblum for 250 gil).
It can be helpful to try using status effects such as Slow to your advantage in a Grand Dragon fight, though a word of caution: While the Grand Dragon is not immune to Slow, the spell does miss often. A fight against a Grand Dragon on disc one is always a gamble on how long you can survive, so you have to make a choice between using several turns to try and get a status effect up, or using that same time to do damage with Bio.
If you can get Slow to take effect early on, however, it’s a huge help. Reducing the frequency of the Grand Dragon’s attacks frees up time to focus on damage instead of reviving party members.
I advise having two party members dedicated to reviving others when they go down. Sometimes you can get away with having just one on standby at all times, but you can get yourself into a tight spot if that character goes down and all the others are already queued up to attack. This is slightly less of a problem if the Grand Dragon is Slowed.
The other two characters would be focused on attacking. Vivi, obviously, should be one of these characters for the effectiveness of Bio, but the second damage dealer could be Quina or Freya, depending on your exact strategy. I personally prefer to use Freya.
There are several Blue Magic abilities that Quina can learn which may be helpful in this fight. For example, Aqua Breath can be learned by eating a Sahagin in Qu’s Marsh. This does damage equal to ¼ of the target’s max HP. However, it also misses a lot, with only a 50% success rate.
You can also learn Limit Glove from eating a Mandragora, which can be encountered in one of the forests near the Chocobo Forest. For this spell to work, Quina must be at 1 HP when it’s cast. It does 9999 damage. A combo I’ve seen recommended with this ability is casting Limit Glove and then using Eat. The Grand Dragon will “taste bad” and teach no new abilities, but it will instantly die. Personally, I’m a bit weird and prefer not to use this method. As I said in my introduction, I like the challenge of grinding out the battle without one-or-two hit KO’s.
If you’re using Freya as one of your attack-focused characters, her Jump ability can be very useful. While she’s off-screen in preparation for her attack, she can’t be killed with a Poison Claw or caught in a group Thundaga. This means both she and Vivi could potentially be surviving the normally party-wiping Thundagas. It’s a bit of a gamble, however, depending on how many attacks the Grand Dragon is able to get in while she’s off screen. If the rest of the party is killed before her attack goes off and she returns to ground, she could very well be killed before she gets a chance to revive someone on her next turn.
As trite and cliché as it may sound, luck and perseverance are equally as important as all the steps I’ve listed above. If you want to take the hard route for defeating Grand Dragons on disc one, you have to be prepared for a lot of failures – and the ever-frustrating situation of seeing that Game Over screen when you know you were only one or two attacks away from killing it.
But that’s part of what makes this method so satisfying. It’s still intensely difficult and you’ll fail more than you succeed, but that’s what will make you so giddy when you finally hear that victory fanfare.