Final Fantasy IX has undoubtedly gone back to the roots of the title that have always been appealing characters, a great story with engaging battles, and an impressive gameplay presentation. Final Fantasy VII was a great RPG game on its own that boosted the market for Final Fantasy VIII, but Final Fantasy VII is definitely a game that turned to its roots.
On the Mist Continent in the Kingdom of Alexandria, Zidane, a member of a rogue group and theater troupe called Tantalus, goes over plans to capture Princess Garnet Til Alexandros XVII from an upcoming festival. Vivi, the young black mage, wants to see a popular romance play even though his ticket turns out to be a fake. With some help from street rat Puck, he sneaks into the show. At this performeance, Zidane and his companions attempt to take off with Garnet which comes through the wims of the royal bodyguard of Adelbert Steiner. Steiner tries to protect Garnet from Zidane’s kidnapping but fails. The twist is that Garnet wants to be stolen away as her mother Queen Brahne has been attacking kingdoms with her army of black mages. Garnet wants to go outside the walls of Alexandria on a quest to find out why these attacks are ruthlessly happening to begin.
Final Fantasy IX is clearly very story driven with a beautiful plot that often switches focus between different characters. As a result, a real dynamic between teamwork is created. Final Fantasy IX is filled with creative scripted pieces that ensure that the player gets to know and use every character. The complicated plot explores many ideas and emotions from love, to hope, death, fear, and existence itself as every member of the party learns the answers while seeking the questions that drive them into living. Every character is fully realized whose appearance belies the depth of the actual setting. Throughout Final Fantasy IX, characters like elderly rat women, obese clown chefs, and more have very human feelings. While the characters may be interesting, the game’s main storyline is average at best compared to previous iterations. A large part of the game simply consists of proceeding from area to area with little or no impetus to continue, and the main villain is the least threatening of the series.
Thankfully, all these seeming negatives make sense when compared to the newly discovered and strong sense of humor. Final Fantasy IX is filled with moments that are sure to make you laugh. The dialogue and situations are frequently amusing, and almost every character has an amusing personality. From Zidane’s womanizing, to Steiner’s obstinancy, Garnet’s attempts to “fit in” with commoners, Vivi’s clumsiness and endless angst, Quina Quen’s single-minded search for delicious food,and more. Even when it is not trying to make you laugh, the game is heartfelt.
Gameplay has been tweaked so that Final Fantasy IX has one of the more balanced combat systems of any game in the series. Each character that joins your party has a character class and unique skills. Zidane is a thief and Garnet is a white mage and summoner, Vivi is a black mage, Steiner is a knight, Freya is a dragoon, Quina learns blue magic by eating her opponents, Eiko is also a white mage and summoner and Amarant uses techniques and can throw weapons. Expanding on character types is easy by equipping objects on your characters. The weapons, wrist guards, all come with particular abilities that when equipped to a character gain him ability points (AP). Some abilities, such as spells and special techniques, become natural and can be activated by spending magic points. Other more passive types of abilities, such as counter, and resistances to status ailments, exist only in a potential form. You must assign these skills using ability crystals in order for them to become effective. The number of ability crystals a character has increases with the character’s level. The item-ability system establishes an excellent balance between individual character skills and player customization. Moreover, the addition of ability crystals prevents players from creating invincible, overpowered characters who have mastered every skill in the game. While not as complex as either the materia or junction systems of the previous two Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy IX’s system is sure to satisfy players who like to micromanage, as well as those who just want to play the damned game already.
The battle system itself has expanded to permit four party members as opposed to three as in the previous installments. The larger party size leads way to more interactions since characters are more specialized in Final Fantasy IX than in recent games in the series, and the larger party size makes the battles more tactical. Limit breaksare back again through a trance system. As characters receive damage, their trance meter fills, and once this meter is full, the character enters a trance. Tranced characters have glowing skin, a more powerful appearance, and access to a new set of techniques and skills. Other trademark spells are back too, so nothing here disappoints in terms of battle sequence or anything else.
Final Fantasy IX is amazing with some minigames, in concept. Testra Master ends up incredibly, however, incredibly dumb as there are no rules and the game says to “discover yourself” and the rules altogether. Most minigames are interesting and while some argue pointless, do give a lot to the atmosphere and world that Final Fantasy IX has inevitably created.
Graphically, Final Fantasy IX only slightly improved over Final Fantasy VIII. The backgrounds are rich and vibrant while being realistic. Many backgrounds are animated, which increases the amount of visual detail. The in-game character models are slightly less detailed than those found in Chrono Cross. Full motion video cutscenes are as detailed as those in Final Fantasy VIII, though of course the characters themselves do not appear as real. Square has been pushing the limits of what the PlayStation can reasonably do for quite a while, so it is difficult to see much more improvement to begin with.
They always say that the taste of nostalgia is at best a bittersweet symphony and a lot of people might end up feeling that Final Fantasy IX is an end to an golden age. At times, series’ heritage overwhelms the narrative, and the game borders close to becoming a weird meta-RPG about the Final Fantasy series. Square internally debated if Final Fantasy IX was to be a main series title, or a weird spin-off with a sidestory. Either way, they have chosen to make it a series title for the right reasons. Final Fantasy IX encompasses a lot of different aspects while managing to refine gameplay and make the storyline less “oh wow we are so incredibly serious and the fate of the world is in our hands,” sort of thing. The exciting storyline with a veritable cast is all too welcome and so is Final Fantasy IX.