Final Fantasy IX - Staff Retroview  

Fantasy Revisited
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Final Fantasy IX
Easy to Moderate
20-60 Hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   As the last new Final Fantasy game to grace the PlayStation console, Final Fantasy IX closed the era with a throwback to its origins. Instead of further advancing the series graphically by making it look realistic like the prior two games, IX takes a step away from realism and focuses on characters and the story behind them. Not originally planned as part of the main Final Fantasy series, eventually everything came together to build an experience that offered many references to the prior titles in the series.

   The story of Final Fantasy IX begins as Tantalus, a traveling theater group, docks their airship in Alexandria to perform a play for Queen Brahne and her kingdom. The play is a ruse, as their actual goal is to kidnap Alexandria's Princess Garnet. Zidane, one of the members of Tantalus and the game's main character, ends up getting more than he bargains for as Princess Garnet wants to be kidnapped. The crew and castle guards get mixed up into quite a mess that ends up with Tantalus kidnapping a willing victim; Steiner, captain of the Knights of Pluto, getting drug along with Tantalus as he tried to protect his princess; Vivi, the innocent black mage, being chased onto the airship stage during the confusion; and Queen Brahne opening fire on the escaping airship causing it to crash outside the city. This is all just part of the opening.

   The rest of the game takes a look into the lives of the main characters as they try to uncover Brahne's motivations. Zidane, Princess Garnet, Vivi, and Steiner end up working together and are soon joined by the rat-like female lancer, Freya, and the hungry blob Quina. During their travels, they meet with Kuja, a mysterious man who seems to be assisting Queen Brahne as she wages war on the continent. Meeting up with many others on their adventure, Zidane and friends slowly learn what is truly important to them in life as they unweave the story behind Brahne and Kuja. The plot starts off fast-paced and exciting, but drags a little in the middle. Thankfully, it picks up later near the end, but seems to lose a little focus as well. As a whole, the light-hearted story of Final Fantasy IX is not groundbreaking, but the characters and depth of development that most of them receive is quite impressive, making up for what is lacking in overall plot.

Frozen Beauty So cold, yet so hot.

   For the first time since Final Fantasy IV, each character has their own unique job such as Vivi being a damaging Black Mage and Zidane having the ability to steal items from enemies. Of the many playable characters, up to four can be assigned to the main party, though often times certain characters are required or guest characters are assigned to the party. Proper balance needs to be maintained in order for the party to be successful. Along with each character having certain preset abilities, a customization system gives means for user-assigned abilities to be given to characters as well. Characters learn these abilities by equipping specific weapons or armor and then gaining a set number of ability points (AP) from combat to acquire them permanently. There are limits, as characters can only assign an adjustable amount of these abilities with that limit growing as levels increase. Also in combat, characters have Trance abilities which are powerful skills that become available after a character has taken a set amount of damage. The only downfall with Trances is the fact that the player cannot decide whether or not to activate them or not. This leads to Trances getting set off and then being wasted because the battle ends too quickly. Overall, combat is rather solid with an old school feel added in for flavor. It gives a lot of customization even though characters have pre-defined jobs; the variety makes this a very enjoyable, though classic, battle system.

   Much like the issue with Trances, many other areas of Final Fantasy IX could use improvement, such as its interface and menus. Equipment management requires a lot of micro-managing since changing weapons and armor can mess with the abilities that each character has set. Each time characters get an equipment upgrade, expect to spend a decent amount of time reordering skills. Character movement within dungeons and towns is awkward due to the layout of the areas. Final Fantasy IX does a good job of offering interactive locations, but it can make it difficult to tell where paths are, especially the hidden ones. Another issue is with saving and resting on the world map; a moogle has to be summoned in order to use a tent or to save data. This in itself is not a problem, but is just an unnecessary step in what should be a simple process. Also, the loading time upon encountering enemies is rather long as well, adding extra time to what should be a quick process. On a positive note, the party acquires an airship later in the game that can be set to automatically fly to any location on the map that has been visited previously, so the game's interaction is not all bad.

Rebirth Reborn from the Ashes

   Visually, Final Fantasy IX is beautiful. Though lacking the more realistic style of the prior two games in the series, the graphical detail of this game is in no way hindered. Characters are quite impressive looking, both in-game and during cutscenes. Most all of the explorable areas such as towns or dungeons are well-crafted, too. The best visual aspect of the game is its cutscenes, which are plentiful. Though these scenes are generally short and are not voiced, they assist with storytelling in a way that helps to enhance the game's plot.

   Final Fantasy IX offers a wonderful soundtrack that fits well within the context of the game. Tracks such as the lovely "Rose of May" and the ominous "Immortal Rhythm" seem to truly bring certain scenes to life. Nobuo Uematsu's score is well-pieced together and while it may not be one of the most memorable, it is one of the most appropriately composed of the series. Final Fantasy IX features little else noteworthy in terms of sounds, as most effects occur with little notice and the game features no voice acting.

   The amount of time it takes to complete Final Fantasy IX can vary greatly. Those that are new to the game should expect to spend a little more than thirty hours for a solid playthrough. For people who know their way around the game, they could spend closer to twenty for just the main quest. The difficulty of Final Fantasy IX is not too high, though earlier in the game things can be tougher due to a lack of skills or restrictions requiring the use of specific characters. Deeper in, the game becomes much simpler with some characters skewing the balance by becoming really powerful.

   Final Fantasy IX doesn't score many points for originality, as most everything in the game has been done before. It does feature a couple of unique mini-games such as the card game Tetra Master and item hunting game Chocobo Hot and Cold. What this title does is take many of the best pieces from other games in the series, such as having job-based characters or having item-based skill learning, and combines them in a solid overall game. Final Fantasy IX shows that sometimes the best innovation is finding what works best and fine-tuning it.

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