Console: PSone Company: Squaresoft Release Date: November 2000 Genre: RPG Number of Players: 1 Save Feature? You bet!
Squaresoft proved their mettle once again with the ninth installment in the legendary Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy IX is an incredible gaming experience; so incredible that it just might be the greatest Final Fantasy of them all. Everything from the most spectacular FMVs to ever grace your television screen to the simplicity of the gameplay was brilliantly orchestrated. Games like FF9 make you wonder why a PS2 was even necessary.
Overview: Final Fantasy IX, as you can imagine, is very similar to the previous games in the series. This is the ninth game in the series after all! However, Final Fantasy vets will notice right away that FF9 is nowhere near as complex as its PSone counterparts. The intricacies of FF7's materia system along with FF8's junction/drawing system is nowhere to be found in FF9. Is that a bad thing? Well, that all depends on the gamer. I have heard very good arguments presented from both sides on the matter but, personally speaking, I found FF9's simplicity to be very refreshing.
So what exactly is it that makes Final Fantasy IX so special? How is this game any different than, say, Final Fantasy VI? Well, let me say right up front that FF9 is not a terribly original game. In many aspects, it looks and feels like some of the other games in the series. However, the neat thing about FF9 is that it seems to bring together the best of the series and mesh it into one conglomerate whole. The simplicity of FFIV, remnants of the class systems of FFV/Tactics, the engrossing gameplay and plethora of secrets/mini-games in FFVI and VII, and the addictive card game of FFVIII are all wrapped together in one neat package. As you will see, FF9 is by no means perfect but man does it ever come close.
Even though Final Fantasy IX borrows a lot from earlier games in the series, there is still enough originality to keep things from getting stale. The Active Time Event gauge (ATE) was an excellent addition to the series. Whenever you visit a new town/area or some major event occurs somewhere else in the world, you can actually see what the other characters are doing! This was a nice touch because it adds a lot to the game's story and it just provides a unique way in which you can get to know about each character in the game. Some of the dialouge is downright hilarious too! The ATE gauge also helps in regards to the game's replay value since certain ATE options only become available if you move in a certain direction (e.g. leave the room on the left side instead of the right side) or make particular ATE selections first.
Like in Final Fantasy VII, there are a lot of mini-games in FF9 and some of them are just way too addictive! You can jump rope, catch frogs, race a fat hippo, or play a unique Card game in FF9! And while the aforementioned games are optional, there are also a lot of unique "mini-games" that you have to do no matter what! The battle contest, card tournament; even little things like moving back and forth in a prison cell to escape are among the many tasks that you have to endure. One of my personal favorites has to be where one particular character has to reach for a set of keys without being caught by a hedgehog pie. This is so funny because of the fact that the monster turns around every few seconds so you (a frog of all things!) have to stop and wait for the monster to turn back around. Trust me; it is so funny!
While all of these unique games are fun, my personal favorite has to be Chocobo Hot and Cold. Now I've heard several gamers state that they found this game to be boring and stale but I disagree. These games are all so simple and yet...you just can't stop! You've got to search for "one more treasure" or locate "one more Chocograph" before quitting. Of course, you end up just playing the silly game for hours on end before quitting but I digress.
Regarding the actual battle engine in Final Fantasy IX, I have to say that I was dually impressed. It has the simplicity of FF6's system along with some of the additional attributes of FF7's engine. Instead of Limit Breaks, each character has the ability to trance after taking so much damage. Trance is like the Limit Break system in that characters can perform more powerful moves (some of them are simply awesome) but it differs slightly. Unlike FF7, you do not have the ability to decide when trance is used. You are able to see when you're getting close to trancing but, when a character's trance gauge reaches the top, there's no turning back. This is kind of a letdown as trancing at the wrong time (i.e. during ridiculously easy battles) happens quite often. Still, trancing is a lot of fun and can be very useful during those big boss battles. Grand Lethal baby!
Also in regards to the battle engine, Final Fantasy IX features a unique crystal system. Think of this as FF9's replacement for FF6's Espers and FF7's materia system. Basically, each character is able to learn new abilities by equipping various weapons, armor, and additional relics throughout the game. By gaining AP through battles, you can eventually learn these abilities and use them without having to have a particular weapon/armor/relic equipped.
However, that is not all! To be able to actually use the ability, you have to assign a particular number of crystals to that ability. Since you have a limited amount of crystals (this number increases as your levels go up), you can see why strategy is so important. For example, Antibody is an ability that prevents poison and venom and it requires 4 crystals to use. If you're up against a whole slew of enemies that like to cast poison and venom on your characters, it would be advisable to enable this ability for all of your characters. Of course, you'll have to learn the ability or equip your characters with the right items to be able to use it. I hope that I didn't make it sound too complicated. Trust me; it is much easier to understand when you actually play the game!
Graphics: As of this review, I have yet to come across a PSone game with more eye candy than Final Fantasy IX. FF9 delivers a cinematic experience like no other! Beautifully rendered characters, fluid animation, and a level of realism that is unmatched; the ninth Final Fantasy epic delivers in all of these areas and more! Some of the graphics are so beautiful that it isn't uncommon for me to just sit back and soak it in...it is that good! Lush forests, cascading waterfalls, grand castles; the world in FF9 is really brought to life. You can tell within the first hour of play that Squaresoft went all out with FF9; they truly left everything on the table.
Not to be forgotten are the exceptional battle graphics. The characters/enemies have so much personality thanks to the superb animation. You just couldn't ask for much more than this. Granted, some of the background graphics can be a little too pixelized at times but that is forgivable. As good as the characters look, the summons look even better! I'm telling you, for a PSone game, they are simply incredible! If you thought that Bahamut Zero and Knights of the Round from FF7 were impressive, you've got to see Leviathan and Odin in action.
As impressive as the in-game graphics are, what really blew me away were the spectacular FMVs. Words like awesome, superb, and scintillating come to mind here. If you thought that FF7 was a treat just wait until you get a crack at FF9. Not only are the movies absolutely incredible but they are very plentiful as well (hence the reason why Final Fantasy IX is 4 disks instead of 3). I've even heard some people complain about the game having too many FMVs if that's possible! Not only are the movies a great visual experience but they do a great job of advancing the game's story and providing the perfect atmosphere. Like in Chrono Cross, there are no voices during the FMVs but judging from most attempts at voices in video games, that is fine by me.
I could go on and on about how great the FMVs are but I would just bore you to death. Just get your derriere off your chair and play the game already! :)
Music: Like its predecessors, Final Fantasy IX has a very memorable soundtrack. The FF9 score probably isn't the best in the series but still, this is Final Fantasy that we're talking about here! It's like matching Goliath with Goliath!
Even though I'm pleased with the soundtrack overall, I find this area the most difficult one to critique for a few reasons. The main reason is that, while there is a lot of great music in FF9, there is a lot of not-so-great music as well. And while the sound quality is better than it was in FF7, it still isn't up to snuff. Just compare the music in FF9 to the Chrono Cross score and you'll see what I mean. Thankfully, most of the music is good enough to disguise this shortcoming, however.
The first thing that grabs your attention about the game's music is that it has a very different feel than its predecessors. While the darker FF7 score was full of anxiety and sorrow, FF9 is much more light-hearted with hopeful, even friendly tunes. Even when things get dark and tragic, that ominous feel that was so prevalent in FF7 just isn't there. Is this a good thing? Well, it all depends on taste really. If you want a darker game that keeps you on the edge of your seat more, play FF7. If you want a more light-hearted gaming experience (but not too light!), FF9 is a pretty safe bet.
Like I said before, there is a lot of fabulous music in FF9. The tracks that play during the FMVs are simply superb! Violens, trumpets, flutes; you just can't go wrong with orchestrated music in a Final Fantasy game. The music that plays during the intro movie is particularly impressive; it begins this epic adventure in grand fashion. From start to finish, the music does a great job of drawing out the right emotions; Nobuo Uematsu has a knack for that doesn't he?
For the most part, the actual in-game music is very nice. The main theme is very friendly and full of hope which is a good thing considering that it is used a lot in this game. It might have been slightly overused but, considering that the FF9 score has over 150 songs, it's not a huge deal. The battle themes were very good as well. They can't quite match Final Fantasy VII's legendary battle/boss tracks but then again, what can?
Some of my favorite tracks include Living by the Blade (great "battle" theme) and Vamo' alla flamenco (very, very catchy), Awakened Forest (yet another great forest theme), and Rose of May (beautiful piano solo). Jesters of the Moonless Sky and Steiner's Theme are simply hilarious while Kuja's Theme is dark and ominous.
The best music is found on the final disk, however. I'm telling you; Disk 4 is simply loaded with great tunes. The Airship theme ranks among the greatest ever, Successive Battles is heroic and adrenaline-pumping, Terra is beautiful yet mysterious, Bran Bal is dark and sad, and You're Not Alone was the perfect fit for one of the best scenes in the game. Assault of the Silver Dragons along with the deliciously mysterious Place of Memory were exceptional tunes for the game's final dungeon. As if all that wasn't enough, the ending themes are beautiful and rich with emotion. The ending song (Melodies of Life) is beautifully sung as well...in English nonetheless! Hallelujah!! Being able to understand the ending song was so cool (too bad that wasn't the case with Chrono Cross)...trust me, it didn't disappoint.
I would like to go on and on about the beautiful music in FF9 but, unfortunately, I wouldn't be giving you the entire picture. Although most of the music in Final Fantasy IX is great stuff, there are a few duds as well. Ancient Passageway - Gargan Roo becomes very annoying very quickly while Ipsen's Castle is a total abomination of the game's title theme. What the heck was Uematsu thinking here?! Thankfully, you shouldn't be in Ipsen's Castle for too long so hopefully, your sanity will remain intact. While Kuja's Theme is decent, it can really grate on your nerves after a while (e.g. Desert Palace). Burmecia, Cleyra, and Conde Petie are by no means bad tracks but they are certainly on the average side.
Even though Final Fantasy IX may not have the perfect soundtrack, it definitely gets a boost from the game's ultra-realistic sound effects. I was so impressed as I played through this game and heard such a wide variety of sounds. Water flowing, people talking, doors opening, birds chirping, frogs croaking; even moving on different substances (grass, roads, metal) produces a different sound. That's pretty incredible stuff!
Play Control: Moving characters and navigating through the various menus is as easy as it gets. Everything just feels a little more user-friendly than, say FF7. If you ever need help figuring out what an item/weapon/ability does, just press the select button and a friendly moogle will assist you! Also, FF9 is unique in that when you come upon a treasure/secret an "!" will appear over your character's head. When this happens, simply press the X button and the treasure/secret will be yours! This really cuts down on the time that you'll spend searching for secrets which can be a blessing or a curse depending on your style of play. Personally, I liked it!
The controls for the various bonus games are very good as well. Like I said earlier, Chocobo Hot & Cold is a blast to play and the smooth controls are a major reason for that. Playing cards, racing Hippaul, and jumping rope aren't terribly innovative like FF7's motorcycle and snowboarding games but still, you can't really complain.
Challenge: Don't let the childlike appearance or joyful music fool you; Final Fantasy IX can be as difficult as any other game in the series. Granted, if you refrain from going on the side quests and fighting the optional bosses, you shouldn't get roughed up too much. Still, there is enough variety to keep things interesting. You've got to stay on your toes and adjust quickly to enemy tactics. Otherwise, things could get pretty hairy.
Like in most RPGs, the challenge level depends a lot on the player. If you take the time to build up your levels, search for all of the treasures, and learn all of the abilities, then the challenge level certainly decreases. Even then, however, optional bosses like the Book, Hades, and the dreaded Ozma will still be very difficult to beat. Even the final battles in the game are tough-as-nails! I couldn't believe how hard the final bosses were during my first playthrough!
Although it can be frustrating to lose even when you feel like you're invincible, I like how the game challenges you to do more than to simply build levels and discover all the secrets. You've got to be smart as well; adapting to enemy tactics is paramount in this game. And of course, finding all of the secrets and succeeding in all of the side quests is quite a daunting task as well!
Storyline: Although I didn't find FF9's story to be quite as captivating as the legendary FF6/7 stories, it's still pretty good. There are enough twists and turns to keep things interesting and, like any Final Fantasy game, the subplots really add to the game's appeal. It is also important to mention that the character development in FF9 was exceptional; probably the best since Final Fantasy VI. It is so neat to see each character change over the course of the game and to see the different personalities clash/affect each other.
One aspect of the game's background story that I particularly liked was that technology was no longer a central focus like it had been in the more recent Final Fantasy games. For the first time in ages, the game had that classic medieval feel. Personally, I feel that this was exactly what the Final Fantasy series needed because, frankly, the whole technology thing was beginning to grow a bit stale. You don't want to have too much of a good thing!
Regarding the characters themselves, I felt that the chemistry was exceptional and, like I just mentioned, the character development was as good as it gets. The protagonist in Final Fantasy IX is the young man Zidane and believe me, he isn't your ordinary hero. Not only does he have a mysterious tail but he has a lot of personality! Maybe even a little too much personality! Even though his main goal in life seems to be acting tough and impressing girls, he truly has a heart of gold. If you ask me, Zidane is one of the most underrated heroes out there. He was a great protagonist in FF9 yet you never hear his name mentioned in the same sentence as Cloud or Squall. Why?! Btw, like Serge from Chrono Cross (another underrated hero), Zidane's weapon of choice is the swallow. Gotta love it!
Other characters in Final Fantasy IX include the lovely Princess Garnet, the overly protective Steiner, and the mysterious black mage, Vivi. Steiner is hilarious because he tries to be so courteous yet he comes across as being clumsy and mean. Vivi is a great character as well; he has that aura of mystery as he incessantly searches for the meaning of his existence. Other characters include the blue mage Quina, the dragon knight Freya, the summoner Eiko, and the arrogent ninja Amarant. Let me just say this right off. Quina has got to be one of the strangest characters in history! How strange you ask? Quina's weapon of choice is a folk and h/she (the game doesn't even tell us Quina's gender!) learns new abilities by eating enemies! Oh well...at least h/she provides a lot of comic relief; trust me, you'll be laughing when you see some of Quina's antics.
Alright, regarding the actual story itself (finally!), it all begins when a group of thieves known as Tantalus (Zidane is a member.) perform a play at Alexandria Castle. Sounds innocent right? Well, things begin to go haywire when Tantalus abducts Princess Garnet and crashes into the Evil Forest after being attacking by Queen Brahne's forces. So much for the play eh? Well, along the way, Zidane and company encounter a mysterious black mage army, learn of the Queen's true intentions, and meet up with a mysterious silver-haired man. As is the case with pretty much every Final Fantasy game, it eventually becomes clear that the fate of the whole world is at stake.
I could discuss the story in much more detail but I don't want to spoil it for anyone. Let me just say that plenty of secrets and surprises await you! Some of the events that occur later in the game are pretty cool and that last dungeon is so cool! Also, the ending is awesome!! It has to be the best ending that I have ever seen and, considering that I've beat over 325 video games, that's saying something! Although the whole "existence" thing gets kind of old after a while and the story didn't grab me like the Chrono Cross plot, the ending definitely makes up for that!
Funfactor: Unlike the vast majority of video games today, there is so much more to Final Fantasy IX than the spectacular graphics. Due to the short learning curve, the enjoyable battle engine, the various mini-games, and the wonderful atmosphere, FF9 is a blast to play time and time again! With a multitude of sidequests, a nifty card game, and optional bosses, there is more than enough replay value to keep you coming back! There is just so much to see and do in FF9 yet the game never overwhelms the player.
Final Fantasy IX scores high in the intangibles as well. Even though the game was a fairly late release for the PSone (late 2000), by no means was the game rushed. You can tell right away that Squaresoft made every effort to make FF9 a groundbreaking and truly memorable (no pun intended) gaming experience. This game feels like a Final Fantasy game and brings back a lot of great memories for veterans of the series. Classic music, classic summons, humorous dialouge, a great atmosphere; games like FFIX show that, if given the chance, old school games can thrive in today's video game market. As good as the graphics are in FF9, it's the gameplay that makes the ninth Final Fantasy epic a timeless one.
Negatives: The unbalanced soundtrack. While this game contains a lot of great music, some of the tracks just make you wonder. Gargan Roo, Ipsen's Castle, and Kuja's "We Will Rock You" track become very irritating within seconds. Also, a lot of music in FF9 is only in the average to mediocre neighborhood. While they aren't necessarily bad songs, average just doesn't cut it in a Final Fantasy game! Granted, there are over 150 tracks in FF9 so it's only natural to expect a few duds. Also, the sound quality could have been better.
While the story in FF9 is very good, I just didn't find it to be as captivating/engaging as the Chrono Cross or Final Fantasy VII plots (although the ending is far better than both of those games). The whole existence thing just doesn't grab you like time travel or alternate dimensions. Still, it's not too shabby.
Other than that, there really isn't anything to be nitpicky about. For the ninth game in an epic series, I felt that FF9 did a pretty good job in terms of originality. Trust me; FF9 is as solid as they come.
Ratings: Graphics: 4.9 Music: 4.5 Play Control: 4.5 Challenge: 4.7 Storyline: 4.5 Funfactor: 4.9 Overall Score: 28.0 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: *Co-Crown Jewel!!*
Back to Playstation PowerLast Updated: May 21, 2006