Final Fantasy IX is Incredible

Don’t worry, we’ll take a little break from Final Fantasy after this. A man can only play so many JRPGs in a row before he needs a break.

Of the PS1 Final Fantasy games, IX is among the most underappreciated. Which is kinda strange, right? Most people who have actually played it agree that it’s one of the best in the series! Even Hironobu Sakaguchi himself often cites this one as his favorite. Yet it never reached the same heights as games like VII or even VIII!

I can kind of see why. Final Fantasy IX is a return to basics for the series. After two games of sci-fi settings with complex gameplay systems, IX simplifies its systems and gives us a setting more align with the older games in the series, like IV or VI. It puts the Fantasy back in Final Fantasy.

And I positively adored it!

The Tantalus troupe, a group of thieves masquerading as a performing troop, travel to the kingdom of Alexandria to put on a show. Their true aim: to kidnap Princess Garnet. Luckily for Zidane, the member of the team charged with the actual kidnapping, the princess wants to be abducted! Her bodyguard, Steiner, is determined to protect her and stands in their way. At the same time, a mysterious little black mage named Vivi appears and gets swept up in the chaos. Together, these four embark on a world-spanning adventure that will change their lives, and the land around them, forever.

IX’s story is easily the strongest aspect. It’s full of comedy, fun, and adventure, yet it perfectly balances that with some pretty dark and heavy themes. The game often explores concepts of existentialism, depression, identity, and nihilism.

Of all the cast members, Vivi is by far my favorite. His journey of self-discovery, his quest to define who he is in the face of his terrible origins, is deeply compelling. If you ask me, he should have been the main character. Besides, he’s as cute as a button!

I really loved pretty much every party member this time around. Steiner is an absolute delight in every scene he’s in. Dagger’s arc is one of the most badass in the game. Freya is really cool. Zidane is a total fuckboy and I want to have a drink with him.

And Amarant and Quina are… there.

As for our villains, IX has some pretty powerful and memorable baddies. Queen Brahne is an excellent early game bad guy; she’s just so gross and sinister. Garland is a good addition, if a bit dull in the personality department. Kuja, on the other hand, is basically if nihilism was a flamboyant gay guy who goes Super Saiyan 4 and I love him.

My only real complaint with the story is the final act. It treats you to a ton of plot twists and a sci-fi twist classic to this series. None of it is bad persay, but I did find my interest gradually start to wane at this section. By the time I left Terra, I just wanted the game to end.

The ending did make me cry, though.

Now, let’s talk presentation. For the most part, Final Fantasy IX still holds up pretty well to this day. Its character models are all in a sort of halfway between the little chibi dudes of the NES/SNES era and the more realistically proportioned characters of VIII, giving them a wholly unique style. All the backgrounds look really good too, being the most detailed and easiest to maneuver around out of all the PS1 FF games.

My biggest gripe can be found in the overworld. Mainly in that the overworld looks and runs like ass. The frames really chug whenever you’re walking around the map. Especially when you get the airship.

It should go without saying at this point that the music is good. Nobuo Uematsu once again delivers one of the greatest scores in the history of video games with this game. To the surprise of absolutely no one.

Onto the gameplay! Once again, the active-time battle system returns. In these battles, your team of four chosen party members must use their various spells and abilities to overcome whatever foe stands in your way. Simple.

Each character has a set of basic functions unique to them. Zidane is a thief with status-effect abilities. Vivi is a glass cannon with powerful black magic. Steiner’s abilities break magical protection and he can tag-team with Vivi to give his sword strikes an extra bit of magical power. Dagger and Eiko are both summoners with white magic. Quina is a blue mage who learns new magic by eating weakened enemies. Amarant can throw items. Freya is basically a dragoon.

On top of that, each party member can enter the Trance state. This essentially replaces the Limit Break system as an emergency power boost. While in Trance, a character’s abilities are changed or enhanced, allowing them to do monstrous amounts of damage. Unfortunately, you have no control over Trance. If it activates on its own in an ordinary battle, you’re screwed out of it come time for the boss fight. As such, it’s an incredibly unreliable system.

Then there are the customization options. Gone is the Materia system. Dead is the Junction system. Final Fantasy IX goes with a much simpler approach.

See, each piece of equipment in this game comes attached with special abilities. These range from passive stat buffs to condition immunities to new abilities or spells characters can deploy in battle. Once the character earns enough AP from battle with the item equipped, they permanently learn the ability. Be warned: each character can only equip so many abilities, so you’ll need to mix and match them depending on the situation.

I like this system. It’s easy to use and easier to manage. My only problem with it is that the abilities themselves aren’t explained in the game itself. Some are self-explanatory, like MP +10%, but others make no sense. What does High Tide do? The game doesn’t tell you. If you want to find out, you’ll just need to look it up online.

And… that’s it. That’s the game. It really isn’t complicated. Whether you’re new to RPGs or an experienced veteran, you can pick it up and play it fairly easily.

While it doesn’t have the same level of depth as the last two games in the series, I still like this system well enough. It’s nice not to have to do complex math equations to get the most out of my characters. Simple and clean, just how I like it.

Overall, I really enjoyed Final Fantasy IX. Its story is excellent, it still looks pretty good even now, and the gameplay is accessible and fun. It isn’t my favorite game in the series, but I can see why so many people would say it is for them. This is a solid entry that deserves more praise than it gets.

With that, we’re finished with the PS1 era of Final Fantasy. Now, we get into some of the really weird shit.

And by now, I mean after I take a break to talk about literally any game that isn’t Final Fantasy.

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