Not the Best of Final Fantasy But Still Not Bad (3.5)
Jul 27, 2009
The Final Fantasy series, in particular, has a huge staple in gaming. It is the world's most successful Japanese RPG outside of Japan (inside it is still beaten out by Dragon Quest). Often the games have unique stories filled with lovable characters. Final Fantasy IX is perhaps one of the most unique games of the series, but not because of the game's own merits. But mainly because it has some interesting history behind it.
Development began before Final Fantasy VIII was even finished, and when it began it was unknown, then, that Final Fantasy IX would actually receive a roman numeral. And it's easy to see why. At least if you began with VII and VIII. But even if you started with the likes of Final Fantasy I, IV or VI Final Fantasy IX still feels quite different from other games. While it doesn't take place in a futuristic world like the two Final Fantasy games before it... and while it doesn't focus quite as strongly on character development, it is still a fine game on its own, save for a few problems.
Part of the reason Final Fantasy IX is so interesting is because it mostly serves as an homage to the series as a whole. Of all the Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy IX has the most interior references to the entire series. Of course, this has a downside. Those who haven't played all the games prior to Final Fantasy IX might not truly understand that Final Fantasy IX was meant to be an homage. They'll also fail to understand just what most of those homages were. This is especially true if you began with Final Fantasy VII or VIII as the those two games have the fewest references in Final Fantasy IX. In short, those who dislike Final Fantasy IX were never much into the series beyond the first two Playstation outings. For Americans it was made even more conflicting because the majority of the games had not yet been released. And there are huge references in particular to Final Fantasy II and III. The original Final Fantasy II never even hit US shores until 2003--three years after the release of Final Fantasy IX--while Final Fantasy III was just released for the first time in 2006. Combine that with the fact that most people just weren't that interested in going back in time from Final Fantasy VII and what you have is perhaps one of the most misunderstood FInal Fantasy titles. At least in North America.
In spite of everything, however, Producer and Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi considers Final Fantasy IX the best of the entire series. Of all his visions of Final Fantasy... he has described number IX as being the closest to what Final Fantasy should've always been.
Final Fantasy IX certainly won't get as much credit for its story as many of its predecessors. Including the Super Nintendo titles Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI. The game begins by introducing us to Zidane, who is part of a crew of bandits. Their job as the game begins is to sneak into the castle of Alexandria and kidnap Princess Garnet. When they do, by putting on a play, they discover that Garnet wanted to be kidnapped all along because her mother Queen Brahne has been acting strange and unusual. Indeed, it appears the Queen is up to something. And it's up to Zidane to find out just what it is. This is how the game begins. Being four discs, it obviously spans so much more than that and has a lot more meaning and dwells into incredibly deep themes. Along the way Zidane will be joined by quite a cast. Including a mage named Vivi, Garnet's bumbling blowhard bodyguard Steiner ("Steiner the Whiner" as he has come to be known among my group of friends) a lancer named Freya a... thing named Quina, a summoner named Eiko and a thief named Amarant.
In terms of story and themes, Final Fantasy IX is neither as dark nor as absorbing as the two Final Fantasy games which precede it. While there are tons of references to other games in the series the story certainly doesn't come out as being among the best. For one thing, it's a wonder just how far old school Final Fantasy IX has to go. The story is simple, but the main antagonist (a man named Kuja) doesn't strike nearly as big a chord as Sephiroth or Kefka (who is perhaps the best villain Final Fantasy ever had). While playing through Final Fantasy IX, you rarely--if ever--get the sense that this Kuja is a huge meandering threat.
Other aspects in the old school department that might annoy some is going back to the huge head, small bodies, and having a more innocent childlike sense throughout. There's nothing wrong with say... Zidane being a lot more light hearted and upbeat (it certainly helps after how depressing both Cloud and Squall were) but there are times when you wonder why Final Fantasy IX doesn't even opt to go as far as some of the series more darker moments. That's not to say Final Fantasy IX doesn't push emotional buttons. It does. But some of the other buttons it could push don't really get pushed in quite the same manner. Final Fantasy VII and VIII really pushed boundaries, and while Final Fantasy VIII is often labeled as the "black sheep" of the Playstation era, it is the game which took the most risks. It is perhaps why Final Fantasy VIII stands as one of the most hated games in the series... as well as one of the most loved in the series.
Final Fantasy IX doesn't take a lot of risks, or cross lines. But perhaps what may be more interesting about Final Fantasy IX is it's ungodly slow pace. The first disc in particular is very slow. The story itself doesn't really pick up until the end of disc 2. In most cases, Final Fantasy takes a while to get going, but Final Fantasy IX has several momets that are just downright boring. And that's sad because on the whole Final Fantasy IX is a good game.
In terms of gameplay, however, Final Fantasy IX is something quite different. As was the standard for Final Fantasy, it used the ATB battle system. You wait for your gauge to fill and then select an action and perform it. One of the criticisms often thrown out at Final Fantasy VII and VIII was that there was hardly (if any) incentive to use one character over another aside from limit breaks. By that I mean every character was capable of doing everything. Final Fantasy IX goes back to the days of Final Fantasy VI where each character has specific abilities that only they can use. For example, Vivi uses black magic and he's the only one who can. Garnet and Eiko use white magic and summon. Steiner has a magic sword, Zidane can steal... so on and so forth. It puts a lot of strategy and variables into a fight. Despite that, however, Final Fantasy IX is most certainly not a difficult game. The game often gives you everything you need to get going and complete. The final few bosses can be quite tough, but getting there is pretty much smooth sailing.
The battle system does have a few problems that are wroth addressing, though. The first is the abilities system. You learn abilities based on your equipment. Final Fantasy IX isn't the first game to do this and it won't be the last. It certainly isn't the most annoying, but the amount of AP you get to learn most abilities can have you grinding for a while. What makes it a drag, however, is having to sacritice the best equipment for something sub par just to learn an ability. At least it works, but it seems rather simplistic when following up Final Fantasy V, VI, VII ad VIII. It's simple, at least, and simplicity is never a bad thing. But for Final Fantasy it just doesn't seem creative enough.
The other problem--that is rather huge--is the Trance system. Every character has a Trance gauge similar to the Limit gauge in Final Fantasy VII or the Overdrive gauge in Final Fantasy X. Every character gets a boost and can do unique things. Zidane gains Dyne abilities, Vivi can double cast... so on and so fourth. Yet what makes it annoying isn't just that most characters aren't that different, but mostly that it's an automatic thing. When a character's trance gauge fills up, they go into trance automatically. If the battle finishes while they're in the middle of a trance... they lose it. It takes a long time for that gauge to fill. But it can really suck to be in the midst of a battle and go in automatically and the battle suddenly end. The problem is made worse when you realize Trance isn't really all that big of a deal. Characters aren't that much stronger, save for a few because of unique abilities. But for the most part there isn't a big enhancement.
However, when Final Fantasy IX picks up, it really does. Not to mention there are a multitude of secrets one can uncover. Of all the Playstation Final Fantasy titles, number IX is home to some of the most lucrative secrets. There are literally hundreds of little tidbits that can be uncovered everywhere (though that damn strategy guide from Brady Games will help you find none of them). The main campaign might take you fifty hours, but you can easily be busy for over fifty more hours just uncovering all of Final Fantasy IX's secrets. The only secret which may not be so great is the card game here. Final Fantasy VIII gave us triple triad which actually turned out to be a very addictive mini-game. Final Fantasy IX's card game is unpredictable, convoluted and just isn't very much fun... or rewarding. In Final Fantasy VIII you could turn rare cards into some VERY lucrative items. Not exactly true in Final Fantasy IX. There's hardly any incentive to play the game or to collect cards. There's just not much of a reward for doing so.
Yet in terms of production values Final Fantasy IX has beautiful production values. The graphics--while not being as astounding as Final Fantasy VIII (in terms of character models, that is)--are still some of the best looking on the Playstation. Along those lines, the soundtrack is also quite astounding and amazing. It's just an overall amazing looking and sounding game. What Final Fantasy IX lacks in depth, it makes up for in production. And while the story can be quite forgettable and it can be slow paced, it's still overall a good game.
The only real thing that people miss is that Final Fantasy IX wasn't exactly meant to be quite as sophisticated int he first place. I did talk about how it wasn't really all that depth, but this may come from the idea that the team developing it had a hard time deciding if it was a "true" Final Fantasy to begin with. While Sakaguchi considers it the best of the lot, it is amusing to see that they were quite nervous about strapping on a roman numeral. It was definitely Final Fantasy... in a very pure way, but perhaps the reason they had trouble giving it a roman numeral was because Final Fantasy VII and VIII took Final Fantasy to new heights, and perhaps Final Fantasy IX was a step backwards. Final Fantasy VI was really the first to take Final Fantasy into a very industrialized direction. Final Fantasy VII and VIII capitalized on that. So with Final Fantasy IX we go back to the roots. It might've felt like a step back. We don't really know for sure. Final Fantasy IX is probably not the best Final Fantasy. It certainly isn't as good as the two which came before it (that and it came out at an inconvenient time resulting in lower sales), but not because of story or what have you, but mostly because of gamplay issues that it had. A series like Final Fantasy always comes into crossroads. Either to continuing doing what it's doing or reach a little higher. Until Final Fantasy IX it seemed like Square did nothing but reach and reach and reach. With Final Fantasy IX it decided to play it safe. For the most part you're getting a great game. But it doesn't show nearly as much strength as the titles which precede it.
I tip my hat to the hours of wall hugging for [?]. I thought it was a great game. They said they were going back to the roots, and I felt like they really did - but in a different way. I felt that FFVII and FFVIII were much more modern and more serious. The tone of FFIX was nice and lighthearted. They definitely pulled off the fantasy setting. Lovable cast. Except Quina, but that was only because she was scary. Honestly, Blank would have been so cool.
One my favorite RPGs. Great story, music, and sidequests. The battle system is a step backward for the series and the difficulty is pretty easy. Despite this, the game makes up for with a lot of character and the best art direction of the PSOne Final Fantasy titles. Fantastic ending to boot despite interesting final boss.
Underappreciated in its own time, but I liked it for what it was, a colorful 16-bit throwback. To me it had the most likable cast since VI. Unfortunately, at that point I had largely moved on to the Dreamcast, and was busy falling in love with Skies of Arcadia, so this game wasn't as loved in heart as it could have been. Sorry.
Pros: Characters, story, graphics, blah blah blah. In short, everything. Cons: Having to shut it off and return to stupid reality. The Bottom Line: Everything a really great rpg should be and more. Find a way to aquire it. But it, steal it, it doesn't matter how. Just aquire it! Do you remember the Dark Ages? Times of a "Junction" system? Of weapon upgrades? Of magic drawing? Of a sci-fi setting? And of a stoic prick named after … more
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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FINAL FANTASY IX centers around an evil queen's desire to dominate the world, while players follow a group of bandits, knights, and magicians as they try to stop her. Brahne, the Queen of Alexandria, has begun using highly-advanced magical weapons to terrorize neighboring kingdoms. Zidane, a skilled thief, teams with a young mage, a royal knight, and a beautiful princess to save the world from the queen's evil doings. Soon after embarking on their quest, they discover that the queen's threats merely cover a far more sinister plot. A powerful sorcerer named Kuja has been supplying Brahne with her magical weapons. For the sake of mankind, Zidane and company must uncover Kuja's motives before he carries out his deadly plan. As in all Square games, FINAL FANTASY IX allows players to unlock the rich storyline and subplots as they play with eight uniqe characters who use a variety of weapons, magic and monsters in a quest for good over evil.