Final Fantasy IX
Reviewed: 12/28/2003


The last Final Fantasy on the original Playstation, Final Fantasy IX‘s whole catch was “The Crystal Comes Back.” Media outlets often described the game as being more like early FF’s with phrases like “return to its fantasy roots.” What these turned out to mean, however, wasn’t what players expected.

Basically, what “fantasy roots” meant was the presence of castles and a couple of dragons. It seems most people forgot that “fantasy” actually means anything imaginary. As for the crystals, they are mentioned once (briefly) in the story, but otherwise only function as a part of the battle interface. So much for big dreams.

Lame advertising aside, the game did turn out to be quite playable. In addition to those, um, “fantasy” aspects coming back to the series after a two-game vacation, the fourth character is back in battles. The three-character system was fine in FF’s 7 and 8, but Square made the right call in part 9 when they brought back the four-member battle crew. Each character in battle has an important role, and selecting the right party for each situation actually matters again in FFIX. The cast members all have a certain job class they fall into–ala the original Final Fantasy and FF4–as observed with things like Vivi’s obvious black mage heritage, Eiko’s summoning skills, and Freya’s lancer abilities. This plays well, but can’t really be viewed as original; while it may seem that way to players unexperienced with the 2D FFs, older gamers will recognize this as familiar territory.

When in battle, the player combines the various abilities of the characters to form a well-balanced party that can be very fun to take around the world in search of good fights. The aformentioned crystals come into play here, as well. Pieces of equipment have different skills attatched to them, which can be activated by putting a certain number of the given character’s crystals. For example, if Zidane equips a knife that has “anti-venom” as an ability costing 2 crystals, he can now be immune to poison if he has 2 extra crystals to use activating that ability. The downfall of this (much like FF Tactics Advance) is that it greatly discourages selling weapons, since it hurts to get rid of something and then find out you need to be immune to “stone” in a certain battle, but sold the armor that gives you that ability. That said, your inventory will get more and more cluttered as the game goes on. So the interface is good, but not without drawbacks.

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Crappy battle graphics…

Continuing with discussion of the battles, the graphics in them, apart from summons (which are long once, and then shortened to speed things up) are nothing special. The addition of that fourth character to all the camera flippingness brought on by FF8 left very little space to make things look very detailed. Moving on, instead of the limit breaks that were seen in parts 7 and 8, Final Fantasy IX‘s cast members sometimes go into a “trace” state, in which they can perform devestating special moves. The downfall of this is that players can’t control when to go into trance mode; the characters just go into it automatically, meaning they might hit an enemy, go into trance mode, and then the next character kills that enemy and the battle ends, and the trance is gone for a long time. This forcing of trances in any old random battle robs players of a potentially great strategic aspect and it frustated me all the time.

The plot is well laid-out and the story is told effectively with a commendable translation. However, the story being told isn’t all that great and only a handful of times will you’ll actually find yourself deeply involved with the story; and these times are all on the third and fourth discs. But to the game’s credit, it does pack an amazing ending. My PS was on for about 21 consecutive hours during the end parts of the game, and the ending is one of the most complete and just plain satisfying endings I’ve ever seen in a video game. Props to the ending. Yeah, I just said “props.”

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…but the cinemas are gorgeous.

Squaresoft was rarely one to wuss out on the technical aspects of video games. But while the graphics in Final Fantasy IX would’ve been considered great by most other developer’s standards, when compared to the other FF games, it becomes painfully obvious that this game’s graphics are pretty grainy outside of the CG cinemas. Of course, said cinemas are amazing and some of the best of the Playstation, right up there with Chrono Cross and Parasite Eve II, but can’t fully compensate for the lack of detail elsewhere. On the upside, the sound effects are decent and the musical score is outstanding. In terms of the Final Fantasy series, 9’s soundtrack stands in second place, only following FF7. Uematsu did some adjusting to his style in some tracks, while revisting Final Fantasy VI in others and it turned out awesome.

You can almost spend as much time in side quests and mini games in FF9 as you would spend on the rest of the game. Players are generously offered quests involving the communication asstistence of “Mognet,” fighting mosters in a battle arena, playing a card game similar in concept to the one in FF8, and getting involved with the somewhat addictive Chocobo Hot & Cold. The card game “Tetra Master” is decent, but not as easy to understand as FF8’s “Triple Triad.” Also, there’s alot more pure luck involved with this new card game, which didn’t sit well with me. Chocobo Hot & Cold is just like the real life game we all know, except that you are digging for items with the beak of a chocobo. It’s a good distraction and provides a good bragging point for the game.

Overall, Final Fantasy IX is a game that, as said before, is certainly playable, but perhaps had its sights set too high and tried for a bit too much going backwards, while not pushing forward enough. It’s got sweet mini game action to make up for a somewhat thin storyline, and the graphics and sound are on par with the top RPGs of the Playstation days. It may feel kinda stale after having experienced many of the gameplay perks in the 2D era, but RPG newcomers will find many things to love about this game. Final Fantasy IX may sit in the shadows of other 32-bit megastuds like Xenogears or Lunar 2, but it is definitely worth playing, no matter how seasoned you are.

-Heath Hindman

Score Breakdown
Very Good
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Very Good
Story Good
Graphics Very Good
Sound/Music Excellent
Replay Value Average
The Verdict: 7