Final Fantasy IX Review

Title: Final Fantasy IX
Developer: Square Enix
Game Type: PlayStation Classic
Download: 1.5 GB
NA Availability: 
Digital Download, Direct Download
EU Availability: Digital Download, Direct Download

This is it, people.  With the release of Final Fantasy X| X-2 HD Remaster less than a week away, we are onto our final Countdown Review.  It’s been a long wait and we’ve amassed reviews for Dissidia 012: Duodecim Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy Origins, Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, and Final Fantasy VIII.  There is only one more review to go before we will have reviewed every main game available on the Vita that is currently out in anticipation of Final Fantasy X | X-2 HD Remaster.

After Final Fantasy VIII released, Square looked back on the series and wanted to make a game that was a new game, but was also something more.  The series had seen a lot of games and they wanted to make a game that was a big nod to the series, as a whole.  Something that took the greatest elements of the original six titles and combining those with the greatest elements of Final Fantasy VII and VIII.  The result was the ninth entry in the series.  Here is our official review of the PlayStation Classic, Final Fantasy IX.

Story

The story of Final Fantasy IX is centered around a thief by the name of Zidane.  Zidane is a thief of the group Tantalus, whom are on their way to the Kingdom of Alexandria on a mission to kidnap the heir to their thrown, Princess Garnet Til Alexandros, under the disguise of a Theater Group to play I Want to Be Your Canary, a play of Shakespearean origin.  As they get there, things go both good and bad when the Princess confronts them, requesting she be taken from the castle.  After a very explosive escape from the castle, the thieves, princess, a knight, and a young black mage begin a journey as a large-scale war starts from Alexandria Castle.

The story of Final Fantasy IX keeps what Final Fantasy VII and VIII started with having rather large backstories for its characters.  As you progress through the game, you will see cutscenes as well as side-quests that will show more and more background into each character.  The main story even has some huge points where the backstories of each character, even unknown to them, will play a huge part in the fate of their world.

The story, as a whole, isn’t the best tale of all tale.  However, if it doesn’t grasp you from the start, let it develop.  The most crucial and exciting parts of the story don’t unfold until the latter half of the game.  Final Fantasy IX is a story that unfolds quickly, though also changes quickly.  What it does, though, is takes away from the super-serious moods of Final Fantasy VII and VIII.  There are many very serious tones, but there is a much more light-hearted mood and more comedy for you to smile at and enjoy, like previous games were.

What’s unique about Final Fantasy IX’s story are the allusions.  This is a game that was made as a nod to all of the previous Final Fantasy games.  Within this, in scenes, descriptions, and more, you will find references to all kinds of things, from Garnet’s original outfit being based on the original White Mage to the Buster Sword in a shop to more.  Not only Final Fantasy, but you will find references to all sorts of media, from Shakespeare to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  If you like fanservice references, then you’ll love finding them in this game.

Gameplay

The gameplay of Final Fantasy IX mostly remains unchanged from the previous entries of the series.  You have a party of characters with you as you explore the World Map that is full of towns, cities, dungeons, and more for you to explore, all while fighting off random turn-based battles along with Boss Battles, and progressing through a story that ends up being much more than world-shaking.  That part of the game is very similar to the previous entries of the series, and plays very similar to Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII.

Your party differs from Final Fantasy VII and VIII in the fact that each part may be comprised of four characters, rather than three, as was the case in the previous two games.  This, in itself, could be a reference to the older games, as the only older Final Fantasy that didn’t allow for four characters before Final Fantasy VII was Final Fantasy IV, which allowed for five characters at a time.  Each of these characters have a specific skillset, at which they excel.

Final Fantasy IX’s characters are all unique.  In Final Fantasy V-VIII, there were many things that anyone could do.  Anyone could take on a job.  Anyone could use Materia.  Anyone can equip Guardian Forces and use Summon Magic.  Not in Final Fantasy IX.  Final Fantasy IX took on a system like Final Fantasy IV.  Each character has a skillset.  Only Zidane can Steal and use Thief skills.  Only Vivi can cast Black Magic.  Only Freya can use Dragoon abilities.  The list goes on.  This makes each character unique, because with the exception of Garnet and Eiko, no two characters have the same types of skills and even they have unique skills and spells that differ from the other.

Battles play out in a similar way of previous titles, with a party of enemies and characters and an Active Time Battle bar filling up so you can issue a command.  There is also a form of Limit Breaks in the game, though it’s different.  When you take enough damage, your Trance Bar fills up (Much like Final Fantasy VII’s Limit Break bar), and when it’s filled, you automatically go into Trance Mode.  This lasts a few turns where your various effects take place.  Power is raised.  You gain new abilities.  You cannot determine when it will happen.  It happens automatically.

Abilities in Final Fantasy IX are something that pulls elements from both Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy Tactics.  Each piece of equipment houses abilities.  When you equip something, you can start to learn those abilities.  It doesn’t matter is it’s a sword, armor, ring, or scarf.  Every piece of equipment has abilities attached to it.  You gain AP (Ability Points) by winning battles.  Win enough battles and you Master the ability and gain the ability to use it (if it’s a character specific skill like Magic), or you can equip it.

Utilizinng abilities is important in Final Fantasy IX, especially early on.  Only a certain number of abilities can be equipped at a time and they do different things.  Some abilities can prevent status effects, like Poison or Stone.  Others enhance your HP or MP count.  And some increase your damage against certain types of enemies.  It’s important to figure out what combinations go well with what areas and fights.

Equipment is also a big thing.  Leveling up your character will increase stats like Speed, HP, and MP, but will not increase how much damage you do with attacks.  That is something that is tied to equipment.  If you want to do high damage, you’ll need equipment.  You could grind to Level 50 in Disc 1 and still do the same Attack damage you did when you were Level 10.  It’s always important to get new equipment whenever you can.

Getting equipment the important way comes with Stealing and Synthesizing.  Synthesizing is when you find a Synthesis Shop in the game.  This shop lets you buy Fused Equipment, assuming you have the material that makes it up.  Because of that, never sell any weapons or equipment and make sure you always have at least one or two of everything before leaving a shop.  You just might need it.

Stealing is a big emphasis on the fact that the game’s hero is a thief.  Stealing is a key part of getting ahead.  Almost every boss is carrying a piece of equipment that you’re not going to get for awhile.  Even the very first battle of the game, you’ll want to start stealing to get the Mage Masher knife, because it’s the most powerful weapon you’ll be getting for awhile.  Every time you go into a boss fight, steal until they’ve got nothing left.  Some weapons can only be obtained through this method, and others can be obtained early and give you an edge.

Another big aspect of Final Fantasy IX, which you will need to worry about from the moment the game starts, is the inclusion of Side-Quests.  Final Fantasy VII and VIII had side-quests, but Final Fantasy IX has a lot of them.  Jump Rope.  Excalibur II.  Tetra Master Card Game.  Mognet.  Chocobo Hot and Cold.  Catching Frogs.  Coffee Hunting.  Gaia Spirits.  All of this and more is available to use in the game, and you’ll need a guide to get all of it, as many quests can be missed.  Final Fantasy IX has a huge amount of extra quests to do while you’re going through the game.

With all of the content in mind, you can expect to use up a good 18-20 hours on the main quest and add a good 10+ more hours for all of the sidequests, if you’re planning on going 100%.  There’s a lot to do.

Controls

Controls for RPGs like this normally are not very complex, and the same is true for Final Fantasy IX.  Although you will probably be using all of the buttons that the PlayStation Vita has to offer when you play through this game, there won’t be a huge amount of difficulty or confusion as you play through the game.  You won’t need to assign anything to the touchscreen, unless you really want to.

By default, movement is actually enabled for the Left Analog Stick, as it was on the PlayStation, because of this being a very late PlayStation game.  Final Fantasy IX released on the PlayStation in 2000, so it supported Analog Mode.  This is very comfortable to use, moreso than the D-Pad, though the D-Pad can still be used for movement.  The Right Analog Stick, however, is not used for anything.

Unlike Final Fantasy VIII’s control scheme, Final Fantasy IX’s defaults brought back the Triangle Button for opening up the menu.  It also has the X Button choosing a command and the Circle button for going backwards in a menu or Battle Menu.  The Square Button is used as well, but mostly for making the menus disappear in battle, in case you wish to watch an animation.  The L and R buttons are used as well, for rotating the camera on the World Map, or for selecting multiple enemies/allies for a multi-target battle skill.

Aside from this, there aren’t more controls to explain.  It’s a pretty comfortable control scheme and shouldn’t take long for you to remember.  Although it’s not spelled out for you, it’s pretty easy to get the hang of.

Presentation

Alright, this is one of the biggest and brightest points of this game.  Final Fantasy VIII improved a lot on the presentation from Square’s transition from Final Fantasy VII.  Final Fantasy IX does the same thing.  Final Fantasy IX is a huge step up from Final Fantasy VIII, proving to be one of the titles that really showed what the PlayStation was capable of, alongside Chrono Cross and a few other titles.

The improvement is both with the CG, which is still around the same level as Final Fantasy VIII, but also within the character models.  The environments, outside of battle, are pre-rendered.  So, as the two before it, it looks absolutely flawless.  But the character models and animations look a lot more detailed than the previous two games.  They no longer look like pieced together shapes.  They’re a lot more detailed and form like smooth, realistic ligaments.  They look a lot different, given the game’s differences in art style than Final Fantasy VII and VIII, but they are definitely a step up.

The game pays great, for the most part.  Load times have been greatly improved from Final Fantasy VIII.  Going from menu to menu and area to area is a lot faster and playing it right after VIII really shows you how big the difference is.  The Load Times for battles, however, are just as long.  Although this writer has never seen complaints, the load times for Final Fantasy IX are actually longer than VIII’s, though I never really noticed it before seeing it for a review.  Each battle takes about 8-12 seconds to load.

There are just a couple technical difficulties holding the game back on the PlayStation Vita.  Sometimes, when you’re on the World Map, there will be some slowdown, especially when calling Mog to you to save your game.  Also, when you fight within a forested area, battle animations seem to have a lot of slowdown.  They are things that will not take up much of your gametime, but they are unfortunate things that hold an otherwise great game back.

Overall

All in all, Final Fantasy IX accurately melds together what made Final Fantasy I-VI great with what made Final Fantasy VII and VIII great into a single game, and a great way to prepare for the Final Fantasy X HD Collection.  There is a ton to do in the game, and there are so many references to just about anything that you’ll never be able to find them all.  The game is held back by some technical issues, but is otherwise is worthy of a spot on your Memory Card.  This is a game that has a unique experience that no Final Fantasy fan should miss.

The PlayStation Review Network Rates Final Fantasy IX an 8.5/10.

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