Final Fantasy IX
  • Genre:
    • RPG
  • Platform:
    • PlayStation
  • Developer:
    • Square
  • Publisher:
    • Square
  • Released:
    • JP 07/07/2000
    • US 11/13/2000
    • UK 02/16/2001
Score: 85%

This review was published on 07/07/2013.

Final Fantasy IX is a role-playing game developed by Square and originally released for the Sony PlayStation in 2000. It's the ninth game in the main Final Fantasy series and the third and final one released for the PlayStation. By this point in time, Final Fantasy was kind of a big deal. I mean, it already was a big deal, but by the time IX came out, it was one of the biggest deals in the world of deals. Pretty much every gamer knew about the series at this point, thanks to the incredible success of Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy IX was a late era PlayStation release, as it actually came out after the launch of the PlayStation's successor, the PlayStation 2. Because of that, a lot of people played Final Fantasy IX on their PS2s, which had full backward compatibility with all PS1 games. The PS2 had the capability to smooth out textures of PS1 games, which is a function that helps make the graphics of Final Fantasy IX look a little better. Final Fantasy IX is one of the best looking PS1 games graphically, having mind blowing Full Motion Video sequences that still look reasonably good today. While the world and plot of Final Fantasy IX isn't too interesting, it's a very enjoyable RPG that sticks to what works.

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The last three Final Fantasy games all had technological themes to them, featuring steampunk, industrial, and even sci-fi elements. Final Fantasy IX chooses to omit all of that and goes back the basics of a pure, traditional fantasy setting. This will either have you jumping for joy or sighing in disappointment, depending on your preferences. We're back to a medieval world of swords and sorcery, complete with castles, knights, dragons, and mages. There is still a little bit of technology with the presence of airships and various other steam powered machinations. Airships have been a staple of the Final Fantasy series since the very beginning, starting with the original Final Fantasy on the Nintendo Entertainment System. A pervading theme to Final Fantasy IX is the presence of a strange mist that people use to power their primitive machines. Where did this mist come from? That's for you to find out. The origins of this mist are discovered as you progress through the game. It's somewhat integral to the plot, so I won't go into it here. Final Fantasy IX's traditional themes don't provide the same intrigue as the unique worlds of VI, VII, and VIII, but it still has that signature Final Fantasy touch to it. And if you like the traditional fantasy theme, then rest assured that Final Fantasy IX does it justice.

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Our raucous tale begins with the kidnapping of a princess. Except this time, you won't be playing as the knight in shining armor that is to rescue the fair maiden. Instead, you're the one doing the kidnapping. Talk about a role reversal. You control the protagonist, Zidane Tribal, a flirtatious male thief with a tail. What's with the tail? Is this Dragon Ball? Anyway, Zidane is part of a group of thieves that pose as a theater troupe known as the Tantalus Theater Troupe. You can't just rush in and kidnap princesses, you know. This isn't the Mushroom Kingdom. Kidnapping princesses in a Final Fantasy game is much more complex and requires a master plan. The princess in question is Princess Garnet, and the plan is to infiltrate the castle of the kingdom of Alexandria under the guise of a harmless theater troupe. A play will be held in celebration of Garnet's sixteenth birthday, and the thieves will be acting as the actors of that play. It's a pretty solid plan. This initiates a long journey of many twists and turns, as you discover why the thieves are kidnapping the princess, the shadowy conspiracies among the royals of Alexandria, and much more. Final Fantasy IX's plot is a lot less complex than the previous games, but also a lot less interesting. The game has a strong premise to build off of, though it doesn't do much building. It mostly sticks to genre cliches and rarely takes any risks. If you played most of the older Final Fantasy games, then the plot won't surprise you. There is a pretty significant plot twist near the end of the game that shakes things up a bit, but it's too little too late. That plot twist also doesn't make much sense. Final Fantasy IX is sort of a step back for the series in terms of plot, though the execution of the plot is still solid.

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The focus of the story is more on the characters than the plot. Each character has a unique personality and the main appeal of the game comes from seeing the different characters interact together. Zidane is a ladies' man who has fallen for the princess he kidnapped, which creates some complications. Garnet doesn't fall for Zidane's boyish good looks and charm, but that doesn't stop him from trying. Steiner, a knight of Alexandria, is another character that joins your party early on in the game. This sets up an interesting dynamic, because Steiner wants Zidane to pay for his crimes, but due to the dire circumstances that they're in, they have to work together. It's kind of like those movies where the cop has to work together with a criminal. Just like in those movies, there are many humorous scenes between Zidane and Steiner. Vivi, designed like the black mages from Final Fantasies of old, is another character a lot of people like. He's a socially insecure, shy little guy who looks up to Zidane as a role model figure. Yeah, thieves don't exactly make for the best role models. Vivi slowly gains courage and self-esteem as he journeys with the rest of the party. As the game progresses, the relationship between Zidane, Steiner, Garnet, and Vivi changes, so there is plenty of character development to be had here. There are more characters that join your party later in the game, too. The rest aren't quite as good as the ones I already mentioned, but they're decent enough. Even though the plot isn't very interesting, it's made really enjoyable due to the strong personalities of the different characters and their resulting development. Final Fantasy IX has a great cast of playable characters.

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Battles in Final Fantasy IX use the same traditional system the series has been using since Final Fantasy IV, just way more polished. As always, battles are randomly encountered. The Active Time Battle system, or ATB for short, makes a return in this game. Turn order in battle is decided by bars that fill up over time. Everything is menu based, so you select commands from a menu to do things like attack, perform skills, cast magic, and use items. Final Fantasy IX again lets you have up to four characters in your active battle party, much like the older games in the series. Strategy in battle depends mostly on which characters are in your party at the time. Each character is of a class that can never be changed, so they all have their own abilities and stats. Since Zidane is a thief, he can steal items from enemies and attack quickly with daggers. Steiner is a stout knight that can take hits like a champ as well as deal major physical damage with his blade. Vivi is your only black mage in the whole game, which makes him essential if you want some offensive magical power on your side. Garnet can also be essential, as she plays the role of white mage, healing those in need. This harkens back to Final Fantasy IV, in which all characters are unique. Fights are streamlined enough that they rarely overstay their welcome. That's a good thing, because you're going to get into a lot of them. The battles in Final Fantasy IX are as traditional as you can get, but they're fun.

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Equipment is everything in Final Fantasy IX. The weapons and armor you equip aren't just there to make your characters more formidable on the battle field; they also teach your characters abilities. It doesn't really make any sense, but these things rarely ever do. Just about every piece of equipment in the game can teach characters abilities. We're talking hats, shirts, gauntlets, chest plates, daggers, swords, rods, staves, everything. Abilities are divided into two groups. The first group is action abilities, and these are the ones that can be used in battle. They're usually offensive abilities, but they can also be restorative ones, like the healing spells that Garnet uses. Zidane learns thievery skills from daggers, Steiner learns knight skills from swords, Vivi learns offensive magic from rods, etc. These are the most important abilities in the game, as they dictate what you can and can't do in battle. The more of these abilities your characters know, the more they can do in a fight. The other category of abilities is support abilities that aren't used in battle, but are always active. These abilities include things like immunities to various negative status ailments, constant health regeneration, boosts to different stats, etc. Support abilities must be equipped in order for them to be active, and only a limited amount of them can be assigned at one time. The amount of abilities a character can equip increases as they level up. Action abilities don't follow this rule, so they can always be active. As for how you learn these abilities, you need to have the respective item equipped as you fight battles. Winning battles will get points to any abilities you're currently learning, and getting enough points will permanently add that ability to your arsenal. This all sounds well and good, but the problem with this system is that it encourages you to stick with weaker equipment for the purposes of learning abilities. You'll get new equipment faster than you can learn abilities from them, creating an eternal conundrum. It's not as bad as the Junction system from Final Fantasy VIII, but it still has its downfalls.

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Remember the annoying card game from Final Fantasy VIII? Well, Final Fantasy IX brings back a different version of it. It's still annoying. This game's version of the card game is called "Tetra Master." Like Final Fantasy VIII, you can initiate the long, tedious side quest of playing and collecting cards almost at the beginning of the game, and it can last until the end. Final Fantasy IX can easily be a 60 hour game, so that's a lot of card playing, if you choose to play cards. Being that it's optional, you can totally ignore it if you aren't interested. The rules aren't the same as they were in Final Fantasy VIII, but they're based on similar concepts. You can play a card game against almost any NPC in the game by walking up to them and pressing the square button. There is a 4 by 4 grid that players take turns placing cards onto. Each card will have up to eight arrows on its different sides, which means the four cardinal directions and diagonals. If your card's arrow points to a card that has no arrow on its side, then you'll capture that card. The same can happen to your cards. Whoever has more cards captured wins the match. The part that doesn't make any sense is when two cards have arrows pointing to each other. This initiates a "card battle," in which a random card will be captured. All the cards have individual stats, so more powerful cards are more likely to win card battles, but there is still a random chance of the weaker card winning. Also, the stats on the cards are indecipherable unless you know hexadecimal. I'm serious. The card system in this game is even more needlessly convoluted than the one in Final Fantasy VIII. To be honest, I don't fully understand how it works, so I'm not going to explain it further. What you need to know is that the card game is the worst part of Final Fantasy IX. It should be avoided at all costs.

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Final Fantasy IX plays it safe by sticking to the tried and true RPG formula that so many games use. Square anticipated that people might not like the overly experimental nature of Final Fantasy VIII, so they made the next game in line a more traditional one to please traditionalists. As it stands today, Final Fantasy IX is one of the most well liked games in the series. The reason is because this game sort of does everything right; the battles are fun, the characters are great, the graphics are impressive for the PS1, and the music is fantastic. There aren't many things Final Fantasy IX does wrong, though it does do a few. The plot isn't terribly interesting, and the villain in this game pales in comparison to Kefka and Sephiroth. If it weren't for the enjoyable cast of playable characters, this game would have serious problems in the story department. Besides that, Final Fantasy IX is a fun, traditional RPG that will please traditionalists and fans of the series alike.

Word Count: 2,213

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