Final Fantasy IX Review

Final Fantasy IX serves as a coda to the series as you know it - it's a summation of everything that players have enjoyed about the past ten years of Final Fantasy games.

Final Fantasy IX has been billed as a return to the series' roots, but this is an oversimplification. The roots of the Final Fantasy series have always been appealing characters, an epic story, engaging battles, and an impressive presentation. Elements such as airships, pointy-hatted mages, and crystals have always just been surface symbols, while an emotional tale of humanity in the face of adversity lies at the core of each installment of the series. That's not to say that the return to the older art style is unimportant or without meaning. Final Fantasy VII boosted the role-playing game market on two new continents, and Final Fantasy VIII sold the most copies of any game in the series. Both games were critically acclaimed. So why tinker with a winning formula? The game itself no doubt holds the answer.

The story begins on the Mist Continent in the Kingdom of Alexandria. The puckish Zidane, a member of a rogue group and theater troupe called Tantalus, reviews the group's plan to capture Princess Garnet Til Alexandros XVII from an upcoming festival. Meanwhile, the young black mage Vivi wants to see a popular romance play (I Want To Be Your Canary), but his ticket turns out to be a fake. With some help from street rat Puck (who's literally a rat), he sneaks into the show. During the performance, Zidane and company attempt to make off with Garnet, rousing the ire of royal bodyguard Adelbert Steiner. Steiner tries to protect Garnet from Zidane's kidnapping and womanizing ways, but to no avail. That's because Garnet actually wants to be kidnapped. After all, her mother, the once peaceful Queen Brahne, has been attacking neighboring kingdoms with her army of black mages. Perhaps the answers Garnet seeks lie outside the walls of Alexandria.

Final Fantasy IX is even more story-driven than previous games in the series. The plot often switches focus between different characters or parties. One particularly exciting sequence on the second disc features two separate parties trying to escape a sticky situation. The game cuts between the two parties and builds an incredible sense of tension. Moreover, changing circumstances force characters to switch from one party to the other, which creates a real sense of dynamic teamwork. Final Fantasy IX is filled with creatively scripted set pieces that ensure that the player gets to know and use every character. However, when the story drags, or when your party seems particularly unbalanced, the scripting can seem overly heavy-handed, and you may find yourself wishing for more freedom. It's not until disc three that you can truly pick and choose your party members at will.

While the art style may have reverted to that of the earlier Final Fantasies, the storytelling - thankfully - has not. The suitably complicated plot explores many ideas and emotions - love, death, hope, fear, and even the nature of existence -and your party members learn about these things and more as they seek answers to the questions that drive them. No matter how bizarre each member of your party might appear, each one is actually a fully realized character whose fantastic appearance belies his or her depth of character. Throughout Final Fantasy IX, even characters like elderly rat women, obese clown chefs, and young moogle girls all have very human feelings. But while the characters may be interesting, the game's main storyline is weak by comparison. A large part of the game simply consists of proceeding from area to area with little or no impetus to continue, and the main villain is almost assuredly the least threatening in the series' history.

One welcome addition that Final Fantasy IX brings to the series is a strong sense of humor. More than any other Final Fantasy to date, Final Fantasy IX is filled with moments that are sure to make you laugh. The dialogue and situations are frequently amusing, and almost every character has an amusing personality trait. Some of these are Zidane's instinctive womanizing, Steiner's unflappable obstinacy, Garnet's attempts to "fit in" with commoners, Vivi's clumsiness and endless angst, Quina Quen's single-minded search for delicious food, 9-year-old Eiko's take-charge presence, and Amarant's laissez-faire attitude toward everything. Even when it's not trying to make you laugh, the game is still lighthearted - it doesn't just try to impress or overwhelm you.

The gameplay has been tweaked so that Final Fantasy IX has one of the more balanced combat systems of any game in the series. Each character that joins your party has a character class and unique skills. For instance, Zidane is a thief. Garnet is a white mage and summoner, Vivi is a black mage, Steiner is a knight, Freya is a dragoon, Quina learns blue magic (which consists of enemy techniques) by eating opponents, Eiko is also a white mage and summoner (but focuses more on curative magic), and Amarant uses "flair" techniques and can throw weapons.

You expand on these basic character types by equipping objects on your characters. The weapons, armor, hats, wrist guards, boots, and accessories you find all contain particular abilities. If a character equips an item with an ability he or she can use, that ability becomes accessible. Different characters can draw out different abilities from the same item, and sometimes an item won't provide an ability at all. Winning battles earns your characters experience and ability points (AP). Earn enough AP while an ability is equipped, and you "master" the ability, which allows the character to access the ability even when the item has been removed.

Some abilities, such as spells and special techniques, become innate and can be activated by spending magic points. Other more passive types of abilities, such as auto-potion, counter, and resistances to status ailments, exist only in a potential form. You must assign these skills using ability crystals in order for them to become effective. The number of ability crystals a character has increases with the character's level.

The item-ability system establishes an excellent balance between individual character skills and player customization. Moreover, the addition of ability crystals prevents players from creating invincible, overpowered characters who have mastered every skill in the game. While not as complex as either the materia or junction systems of the previous two Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy IX's system is sure to satisfy players who like to micromanage, as well as those who just want to play the damned game already.

The battle system itself has been re-expanded to permit four simultaneous party members, as opposed to three as in the previous two installments. The larger party size permits more possible interactions with the enemies and with each other, which makes for more interesting battles. Since characters are more specialized in Final Fantasy IX than in recent games in the series, the larger party size goes a long way toward making the battles more tactical. Also, the preordained parties used at many points in the game have let the game designers carefully balance many of the larger boss battles.

Limit breaks return in the form of the trance system. As characters receive damage, their trance meter fills, and once the meter is full, the character enters a trance. Tranced characters have glowing skin, a more powerful appearance, and access to a new set of techniques and skills. The series' trademark summoning spells also return. Called eidolons in Final Fantasy IX, they appear with all the visual flair and over-the-top destruction that series fans, as well as detractors, have come to expect. Fortunately, after a few uses, the eidolons' animations are truncated to a short splash-damage effect.

Final Fantasy IX also features a lot more minigames and diverting events than its predecessors. Everyone in the world seems to play Tetra Master, a souped-up version of Final Fantasy VIII's card battle game. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy VIII's enjoyable diversion has been turned into an unplayable nightmare. There's no longer any real reason to play the card game, but worst of all, Tetra Master literally has no rules. The game tells players to "discover them for yourself," though most players may instead opt to not play Tetra Master at all. Otherwise, your party members can take time off to jump rope with schoolchildren, visit a high-stakes auction house, deliver letters for the network of moogles around the world, and generally comb the four corners of the world in search of things to do.

Graphically, Final Fantasy IX is slightly improved over Final Fantasy VIII. The backgrounds are rich, vibrant, and realistic. Many backgrounds are animated, which further increases the amount of visual detail. The in-game character models are slightly less detailed than those found in Chrono Cross - no doubt because there are four player characters onscreen instead of three. The full motion video cutscenes are as detailed as those in Final Fantasy VIII, though of course the characters themselves don't look as real. Square has been pushing the limits of what the PlayStation can reasonably do for quite a while, so it's difficult to see much improvement over previous games. Even so, Final Fantasy IX is one of the most graphically impressive games available on the console.

Unfortunately, Final Fantasy IX is unable to shake the PlayStation Final Fantasy audio curse. As with Final Fantasy VII and VIII, the music arrangements are distinctly synthesized and sound 16-bit. When Square's other teams are producing soundtracks like those in Final Fantasy Tactics, Xenogears, and Chrono Cross, there's no excuse for the sound quality of the company's marquee title to suffer so much. Even longtime series composer Nobuo Uematsu's compositions seem to be languishing. Save for a few standout tunes on the later discs, most of the songs are forgettable. Also, the sound effects are taken from the same Foley CD Square's been using since Final Fantasy IV.

After playing through four discs of Final Fantasy IX, the reason behind Square's return to the graphical style of old should be very clear: nostalgia. Nearly every element of Final Fantasy IX seems designed to trigger a nostalgic response in series fans. Plot sequences, characterizations, and environments will evoke warm feelings of déjà vu if you've played the older games. Final Fantasy IX's world, like that of every Final Fantasy, is distinct from the rest. Nevertheless, both obscure and specific references abound to everything from the first Nintendo-era Final Fantasy to last year's Final Fantasy VIII. Final Fantasy IX is like a sprawling, gushing love letter from Square to series fans.

Of course it's not enough to say "I love you" and expect reciprocation. Every turn of phrase and word choice counts - and it's here that Square's localization has failed its faithful fans. The translation of Final Fantasy IX is technically competent. The dialects are accurate (if sometimes overdone), the dialogue flows naturally and never seems forced or stilted, and the text is grammatically correct and spelled properly. But the devil is in the details, and it's here that Final Fantasy IX is exceedingly sloppy. On many occasions a reference or allusion to a previous Final Fantasy game is localized in a manner that differs from that of the original. Sometimes the astute series aficionado can puzzle out what the game is trying to reference, while other times the original intent of the game designers has been lost entirely. This normally wouldn't be much cause for alarm, but in a game as steeped in nostalgia as Final Fantasy IX, it can completely undermine the designers' intended effect. When the storyline dragged, the Japanese version would depend on nostalgia to carry you forward. Now, English-speaking audiences have been denied even that simple pleasure - "Rally-ho!" indeed.

The taste of nostalgia is always bittersweet, so you might end up feeling that Final Fantasy IX signals the end of an era. At times, the force of the series' heritage threatens to overwhelm the narrative, and the game teeters dangerously close to becoming some sort of meta-RPG about the Final Fantasy series. Allegedly Square internally debated if Final Fantasy IX should have been released as a main series title or as a side story. The concern seems valid, because at times, the way Final Fantasy IX encompasses all that has come before makes it feel as if it exists outside of the main series.

For fans of traditional role-playing games, the forthcoming Final Fantasy X's drastic design shifts and Final Fantasy XI's online-only focus are the writing on the wall. After the aesthetically revolutionary Final Fantasy VII and the dramatic maturity of Final Fantasy VIII, the complacent Final Fantasy IX may seem like somewhat of a throwback. But some players may not mind one bit, as they prefer a polished if traditional role-playing game over the sometimes awkward consequences of more original play mechanics. Final Fantasy IX serves as a coda to the series as you know it - it's a summation of everything that players have enjoyed about the past ten years of Final Fantasy games.

The Good
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The Bad
8.5
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28 comments
gaijingamer7
gaijingamer7

Who else is replaying this classic game?


wanderjahr
wanderjahr

Glad to see these older reviews didn't get the axe during the upgrade.

CharlieCashews
CharlieCashews

How did ff9 get a higher rating than ff7...am i missing something?

Gialeko
Gialeko

It was my first Final Fantasy game which I owned and played it right after it came in my hands!!! Love it!!! The final battle was epic!!!


rocketsatdawn
rocketsatdawn

I just keep going back to this game, Its one of the few PS1 games that I still own. I absolutely love the music as well, not enough games have such mysterious and emotional music these days and this game pulls at the heart strings.

saosebastiao
saosebastiao

I prefer FF7 and 8 to this one, but I still think it's a very good game. To me its flaw was in the combat system, takes to much to load the battles and the battles themselves are slow.

Now Square Enix, make us a Vivi Anime, now!

Crispykids
Crispykids

My favorite game ever, Square-enix needs to make games like this again

D3dr0_0
D3dr0_0

Just played this for the 1st time not so long ago and I have to say it's just as great as the other classic Final Fantasies.

RossRichard
RossRichard

I still say Exdeath is the lamest and least-threatening Final Fantasy main villain.

disneyskate
disneyskate

Are you kidding? The graphics took a huge leap in this game! Not to mention the beautiful CG and humorous comical nature of the game. Sometimes change is good.

RndmGui
RndmGui

While this game is not my favorite out of the series.  I have to say that this game was great!  The story and characters are all unique in their own way and the combat system is great!  The abilities through weapons and items was a very cool idea that I consider well done and it encourages you to not just find the best gear and upgrade right away, I like that.  I do feel that this game is underrated by many people who can't get over the fact that the main character has a tail, but  there is a reason why.  These games are very rare to come by now days.  The music, story-telling, combat, and character interaction make this a very good game!

SmokeScr33n
SmokeScr33n

It is certainly the best when looking at the facts, maybe not by personal preference, it didnt use any new frills bangs whistles or dramatically updated graphics to woo you in like the over hyped FFVII. The materia system is great, original, and flawed. This game really brings interface to reality and thoroughly outperforms its predecessors,  unlike the latter final fantasy games, which to me are not final fantasy at all. Square-enix cannot reproduce the same level of storytelling and interface that is needed to create a memorable game.

 

sirmensis
sirmensis

One of the best games I ever played!

igorfeketija
igorfeketija

I wouldn't go as far as to say that it's the best FF, but i agree about 9.5!

Ryles30
Ryles30

Easily the best main series Final Fantasy, deserves at least a 9.5

tetsuo93
tetsuo93

 @SmokeScr33n You don't consider FFX "final fantasy at all"? Seriously? FFX was by far the best in the series.

Aaronp2k
Aaronp2k

@tetsuo93 @SmokeScr33n FFX was not a final fantasy game  if you look at its map design. It was a glorified dungeon crawler just with different and more interesting textures. no open world element at all until the very end of the game and even then i would not call it open since you cannot go anywhere you haven't already been before apart from the places which advance the story of course and also you cannot run from point a to point b using different routes it all follows a set path so you have to do it all by 1 means of transport (airship) compared to ff7 where you can go in submarine, cruise ship, buggy, tiny bronco, chocobo and so on. Also the lack of mini games compared to ff7s gold saucer which was brimmed with them and one of the most fun places iv ever been in a video game. With that being said, the story itself and the voice acting i felt did capture the final fantasy atmosphere a lot better than the insulting sequels that followed, but the story on 10 will never be as good as ff7's, and cannot be compared to ff9's since on ff9 final fantasy went back to its roots, the whole medieval vs futuristic magic deal. ff10 was better than ff8's story, but ff8 had better content.

When it all comes down to it with final fantasy games though, they are all about the story to most fans including me. As long as the combat system is even remotely interesting it keeps me playing. The only games in the franchise which have failed to do so is x-2 and every game after that. 

Aaronp2k
Aaronp2k

oh and just to "burn" you a little more. if you didn't care to read the top of this page it says:

 Final Fantasy IX serves as a coda to the series as you know it - it's a summation of everything that players have enjoyed about the past ten years of Final Fantasy games.

that pretty much briefly sums up what I have been saying, so even gamespot gets me

Aaronp2k
Aaronp2k

and notice I am the only one who provides in depth explanations, you just sum up what you believe in 3 short paragraphs with no real evidence to back it up

Aaronp2k
Aaronp2k

oh and referring to your comment about cod where you said burn in brackets, that is a huge overstatement. you cannot burn anyone, because your precious autobattle option does it for you instead.

Aaronp2k
Aaronp2k

even the devlopment team at square said they don't want to remake ff7 until they make a game what either rivals ff7 or beats it. unfortunately they are so short sighted they have not realised that they could make a game that beats ff7 and its staring them right in the face. an ff7 remake duhhhh!!!

Aaronp2k
Aaronp2k

1. if your version of changing formula is "add autobattle option, and limit each character to only be able to have certain roles (like medic, commando and so on) in the field until end game where you can unlock all the extra roles for them, and of course the most famous flaw of the ffXIII part of the franchise.... the linear gameplay! Well I guess its safe to say we have established that you can't be a day older than 16 or may not have even played the older games.

2. I am all for change, as long as it is for the better. But FF 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 were all fine the way they were despite having the same system for that many games, and you say you understand the "If it ain't broke it, don't fix it mindset", well you can't understand that very well because they have tried to do that and ended up breaking it in the process which is the main reason why I didn't enjoy ff12 and onwards and I am not the only one take a look around the comments and you will see that. Most gripes people have with the games after 7 leading up towards 10 is the story isn't as good which is fair comment but the gameplay was solid for all of those games. Hell even ff10 was linear, but it still held its own as a final fantasy game. Imo, 7 FTW, then comes 9 then comes 8 and then comes 6 (although I played 6 after the others so it is not exactly fair to compare it to the sequels since its older technology).

The battle system is nothing more than a dumbed down version of the good old battle system with an added illusionary system called paradigm which was present in all the older games you just could not see it because they used class based system rather than role based system which are both 1 in the same thing only class based makes more sense since in reality 9 times out of 10 if you put 4 people in a room chances are they all have different skills. And also every other successful rpg under the sun uses class based systems, because they know its what works best!

3. cod is for kids, it doesn't deliver what it promises (it advertises itself to be a war game, well you tell me what kind of war does not have tanks, jets, helicopters, trucks and other such vehicles and killstreaks do not count!) I play bf3, because it delivers what it promises. Just like when I got to gran pulse on FFXIII I realised the game sucked and decided to play ff7 again. The story was pretty good despite the annoying voice acting of some of the characters, if the gameplay was only a little less boring and they put more into the exploration side of the game it would have stood a fair chance against the previous games (and i probably would have stuck round to complete it). They had the chance to fix that on FFXIII-2 and failed miserably by instead adding a pokemon style to it (already been done as a mini-game on ff10 and already been done on every pokemon game, so not a new or creative idea at all)


4. Why would I want to play the same game over and over?


Simple. Because of the lack of creativity in the industry nowadays, I am forced to play them over again since there is nothing better these days. Imo best modern rpg on any console is Dark Souls hands down. I have completed it 3 times and I am still not bored of it because of the combat system which requires a lot of skill, sleight of hand and tactical thinking to come out on top. But I bet you wouldn't like it because its too hard and you keep getting killed. Well newsflash, games that are challenging are addictive and fun when you learn to overcome those challenges. Unfortunately FFXIII just has u press x (a on xbox) and the shoulder buttons a couple of times....yawn!

Ye, same amount of button presses with the older games, but at least they require you to think more and the bosses were way harder.

5. Read what people say properly before you speak, I never said once that they are not FF games. The other poster said that and I agreed with him to an extent that the core gameplay right now does not feel like final fantasy since all the earlier games used the same formula and improved upon it as they went along. As soon as squaresoft became enix, this tradition got ruined and FF is now dead to me now because of it. If versus ever comes out I MIGHT give it a chance, as for 14 I guess I'll wait to see a review before I decide on that, I have faith that with more modern technology they could do something inventive with the battle system, and surely they've seen the eternal yammering of true ff fans complaining about the battle system which should motivate them to make up for their mistakes. However, the story on every final fantasy game always feels like final fantasy. They always nail the story even when they use bad voice actors lol. Unfortunately the gameplay on FFXIII had me bored by gran pulse to the point that I didn't care about the story or the characters anymore so I stopped playing and started playing ff7 again. 

6. ff7 is the best selling final fantasy title, and always will be the best because it is the best. Simple as that! The only thing that would challenge it is a remake, and I bet enix would even screw that up.

tetsuo93
tetsuo93

@Aaronp2k @tetsuo93 @SmokeScr33n Except that they have come up with new stuff; you simply claim it's "not Final Fantasy" when they do. Just because it isn't like the older games of the genre doesn't mean it's worse, nor does it mean it "isn't FF". Games are supposed to (and in my opinion, HAVE to) change, because if they don't they become stagnant, and there is no point in playing them.

Why would you, or anyone for that matter, want to simply play the same game over and over, with nothing more than different maps and characters? If that's what you want, go play Call of Duty (burn! :P)

As for me, I'll continue to play games that change their formula, create new battle systems, and expand upon old ideas that are done to death. Just because that's how the games used to be, doesn't mean it's how they should, or have to be, forever. I understand the "if it isn't broken, don't try to fix it" mindset, but that doesn't really apply to games, at least for me. I want new battle systems, new weapon systems, new level systems, and so forth. I want to play a game I've never played before, and, in my opinion, they have accomplished that, and continue to do so.

Aaronp2k
Aaronp2k

@tetsuo93 @SmokeScr33n I think square's main problem is they made ff7 so good that nothing can rival it, and then they made ff9 to bring back the old skool. Now they cannot come up with anything new and they are never going to beat 7 or 9. 

Final Fantasy IX More Info

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  • First Released
    • PlayStation
    Final Fantasy IX serves as a coda to the series as you know it - it's a summation of everything that players have enjoyed about the past ten years of Final Fantasy games.
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