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Final Fantasy IX

Traditional RPG
Final Fantasy
  • 14 November, 2000
  • 7 July, 2000
  • 16 February, 2001
A- 190 total ratings
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Throwback or step back?

A Final Fantasy IX review Author: Phoenix Down Published: July 09, 2002
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For no comprehensible reason other than the word fantasy in its title, the Final Fantasy series has gained a reputation as a fantasy-oriented series. Hironobu Sakaguchi, the series' resident mastermind, swerves a u-turn from Final Fantasy VI, VII and VIII's industrial and futuristic styling, to give us the world of Final Fantasy IX: a world not run by gunpowder, mako reactors and electricity, but powered by windmills, chocobos and a magical element named mist.
This fantasy-themed world is populated by many trademark Square characters that had been on a hiatus of late, including moogles (there are hundreds of the critters), black mages and the dwarfs from FFIV. Sakaguchi's motto, when directing the game, was 'Return to the crystals'. Let's give Sakaguchi the benefit of the doubt and look away from the fact that the elemental crystals of yore are absent, and interpret his mantra as a desire to return to Final Fantasy's supposedly fantasy roots (whether Final Fantasy's roots are fantasy is a topic for separate discussion).
The characters fit smoothly in to this fantasy world. Conceived and designed by Yoshitaka Amano for the first time since FFVI, the main party is a disparate but strangely suited bunch. Zidane, the monkey-tailed protagonist, is a cheeky, energetic and vibrant character?the antithesis of FFVIII's surly protagonist, Squall. He is similar to FFVI's Locke in both character and profession. His allies include Vivi, a black mage bothered by metaphysical introspection, Freya, a melancholy dragon knight and Garnet, an all-healing all-summoning princess with a penchant for misadventure. There is also Quina, the archetypal oddball, conceived for comedy value but, like Cait Sith from FFVII and Chuchu from Xenogears, frequently annoying and often the spoiler of a serious moment.
A new experience system, less complex than FFVIII Junction System, is used. Similar to FFVI's relics, a character gains abilities and spells from equipment and/or accessories. However, by accumulating Ability Points, a character can learn an ability or spell permanently, even when not using the equipment. Different characters learn different abilities and spells from the same equipment, which gives the characters the sense of uniqueness that was lacking in the complete customisation of FFVIII's characters. Most of these abilities fit into the job categories of FFV and FF Tactics: Zidane learns thief abilities, Vivi learns black mage abilities, etc. Although less complex than FFVIII, it suffers from being too simplistic. Customisation is constrained by the focus on each character being unique, even though they share most of the same abilities (battle benefits such as protecting yourself from negative status effects). Square cannot hit a happy medium between uniqueness of character and potential for customisation.
The battle system offers little new, except for two main additions: being able to have four members in your party and the Trance system. Having four members again is a superb idea. It makes battles pleasantly chaotic and full of multiple methods of attack. However, the Trance system is appalling. Continuing the legacy of limit breaks, a gauge fills as you are hurt and when it maxes, you 'trance' and are given a few extra attack options, such as being able to cast two spells at once. Apart from a few characters, there is little benefit to trancing, and it nearly impossible to plan, so you often end up wasting a trance on a weak monster. Also, when you trance, there is a long-winded animation where the trancing character starts to glow and the camera pans toward them which becomes excruciatingly dull after around the third time.
The story is fast moving and engrossing. Although it is easily the most light-hearted plot and setting of all Final Fantasies, it mixes in scenes of tragedy and destruction and tackles big themes and questions, including the nature of death and love. There is also a fantastic villain, Kuja. A bishounen who would not look out of place in Rurouni Kenshin or Ceres, his dialogue is poetic and thought-provoking, his motives seductive and his elegance scene-stealing. Every good villain deserves a great theme tune, and his is a stunner: a haunting and mesmeric piano piece.
The graphics are what we expect from Square: luxurious backgrounds with a meticulous attention to detail and well textured characters. The FMVs are, of course, astonishing. They are not the bewildering advance that took place between FFVII and FFVIII, and make little progress in technical terms. However, it is the artistry of their design and execution that makes them an advancement from FFVIII's. They are simply beautiful and should be recognised as art. Their only fault is that Amano's designs are somewhat incongruous to the FMV format: the characters' faces look like those of dolls and limit Square's unparalleled talent in representing realistic human faces and bodies (as in FFX).
Nobuo Uematsu's score is consistently good. Despite a handful of perfect tunes, there are less moments of brilliance than usual and nothing as instantly recognisable as FFVI's score. There are several repetitious 'something urgent is happening' tunes that grate after they have looped for the twentieth time; the urgency actually diminishes because you become so bored of the tune. The game's flagship song 'Melodies of Life' does not come close to FFVIII's 'Eyes on Me', but is satisfactorily catchy.
FFIX feels like a 'best of' the Final Fantasy series, taking bits and pieces from each of the games that everyone seemed to enjoy, mixing it all together and dumping it in a fantasy-themed world. What sounds like everyone's dream come true is not so successful; there is little innovation in FFIX and there is only the plot, characters and a superb chocobo-starring treasure hunt side quest to snare the player's attention. There is nothing new in game mechanics, which was FFVIII's saving grace. Square is simply playing it safe. The game is a joy to play, but does not meet the colossal standard of the Final Fantasy legacy. It is a pleasant stroll through nostalgia forest, which may have been Square's only intention, but there is enough nostalgia to be had in the old Final Fantasy instalments alone.
Still, you can't help but smile at all those moogles.
Editor's Grade
dotted line "Final Fantasy IX is a satisfactory addition to the series, however it offers little new. Underneath the soul-melting visuals is a rehash of previous Final Fantasies. It is an example of Square playing it safe, and although a joy to play, does not meet the colossal standard of the Final Fantasy legacy."
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Phoenix Down
Vapid Buttmunch
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Member since July 09, 2002
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