Final Fantasy IX is perhaps the most universally loved Final Fantasy game,the reason I say this is because it seems to me almost everyone who has played Final Fantasy IX seems to love it,but I can't say the same about the other Final Fantasy games,not even for Final Fantasy VII.I think the reason for this is because Final Fantasy IX is a throwback to the SNES days when Final Fantasy IV and VI focused on being charming and not intense or serious like Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII constantly were,while still using the technology of the Playstation to make it's characters look more life-like and it's world 3D.
Final Fantasy IX made me laugh numerous times when I played it,I like how often the story doesn't take itself too seriously and even when it deals with issues such as a cheating husband or a gang of thieves or an overprotective Knight or romance,it does so in a lighthearted way that's very funny or charming.
But the story is serious when it needs to be and provides some thrilling moments and has good plot twists that gel well with the story and the story has more than one love story and the story is easy to understand and has a good amount of depth without being convoluted.
The dialogue for the game is very entertaining,it's often so funny and charming and it's like watching a theater role-play.
The story begins with a group of thieves(with Zidane as the main character) planning to kidnap a princess named Garnet,but the thing is...Garnet wants to be kidnapped anyways and I won't say the reason why,but the reason will lead to lots of interesting story revelations and I'll say the world is also at war and the world itself has lots of secrets to reveal and so do certain characters and like I've said the story has thrilling moments and good plot twists.The main plot and some of the characters have some interesting sidestories that involve legends and last remaining survivors of certain civilizations or how the lovable character named Vivi who's race was created is trying to discover why he was created.
What I love about the characters is they have personality and are either charming or have something about them that makes them likable.I found Zidane to be quite a likable character,because he's not a cold,emotionless soldier/mercenary like Cloud or Squall and he's a nice guy but is a thief because he is trying to get by in the world and he even showed to everyone when he was heart broken over a certain girl.It actually looks adorable how he has a tail although he appears to be human.Vivi is so adorable because he's shy and looks like Orco from Masters of the Universe and there's other reasons to like him but I can't say why because they'll be story spoilers.Steiner,Beatrix,Eiko are also charming characters for certain story reasons and because of the charming way they act.Kuja is a likable villain because he's mysterious and has his own way of unleashing Hell on his enemies and because of his backstory which will shock you.There's other characters but I don't want to mention them all.
The story has some emotional and inspiring and sad moments too.
As for the gameplay,the battle system is an active time battle system.I like it because it's turn-based strategy but faster-paced.Also,the ATB system adds an extra degree of depth to strategy because it's encourages you to think when you should make a party member perform a command and not just what command they should perform.For example,sometimes it's better to let Garnet wait until an enemy has performed an attack so she can heal the party member instead of wasting a turn attacking enemies with a weak attack when her party members have a lot of health,unlike with more traditional style turn-based strategy which forces a party member to perform a command each turn and can put them in useless situations.With the ATB system,enemies will continue attacking you even if you haven't given a command to all your party members and I've explained why this can be used to your advantage,but it can also punish you for being too slow to select commands and in a tough battle it can be costly,but that's a good thing.
Your party members can go into what's called a trance mode which allows them to do very powerful attacks capable of removing 25% of the health of the strongest bosses in the game and they stay in this mode for a few turns and they enter trance mode when their trance gauge is full and it fills up slowly during battle.Trance mode makes what is already an easy RPG even easier(I will explain about the game's lack of difficulty further down).You can use up to 4 party members during battle.
Your party members can learn lots of useful abilities from equipping certain weapons and armor,accessories and after they defeat enemies they will receive ability points to put towards learning those abilities and they will learn those abilities permanently without having to equip those items again.Some of the abilities include immunity to things such as poison,blindness,silence and other crippling status effects and some of the abilities can increase your total HP or MP or nearly double the amount of experience points you get after a battle.But I must admit,this feature can make the game very easy because your party members can learn the ability called 'regan' which constantly heals the character who has that ability during battle,even when it's not their turn.
However,your party can only have 2 summoners.The party member Quina can steal abilities from his enemies,I managed to steal a healing spell that heals your entire party,which made Quina become an extra white mage for my party.
Besides just buying new weapons,armor and accessories you can synthesize multiple ones together to make them more powerful.Some of the stores with the best weapons and armor are in towns that aren't linked to the main story so it gives you incentive to explore the world map.
That brings me to my next point,I love how the world map is filled with towns(some of which aren't related to the main story but you can visit them anyways)as well as cities and caves and forests to explore and there's sidequests in them to be found as well as mini games.Some of the towns are quite big and have charming architecture and townsfolk to talk to and there's giant castles with many rooms to explore.
The dungeons aren't as long or as unforgiving as in many other JRPGs.There dungeon-style environments have conveniently placed save areas and in parts of the game where you have to face multiple boss battles in succession,you'll be given the chance to heal your characters and add more MP to them in-between battles before the next boss battle starts(which is another reason this game feels much on the easy side)where as in other Final Fantasy games,when you had to face multiple boss battles in succession you weren't given the option to freely use items to replenish HP/MP in-between boss battles and it encouraged you to try to get through boss battles with as much HP remaining as possible otherwise the next boss could K.O your party members quickly in the next battle.
There's occasional puzzles to deal with and to be honest I found some of the puzzles harder to get past than any of the bosses.But I still found the gameplay a very fun experience nonetheless.
As for the visuals,like I said I love the traditional architectural designs of many of the buildings such as the curved window frames/rooftops and you'll see details such as balcony's attached to the buildings and you'll see details such as how some buildings are made from both bricks and wood and you'll see street lights on the street and paved roads.Inside the castles,you'll see a good amount of detail too.
The towns often have a lovely,colorful artstyle to them.
But for a bit of variation the Evil Forest has a dark,creepy atmosphere.I remember traveling through an icy mountain cave and when I made it outside I saw a beautiful view of grassy plains and a town from on top of a mountain.
I remember seeing a cute little cottage next to a big mountain and it gave a cosy feeling.
There's a town covered in snow and mountainous desert terrain and I remember traveling across a bridge that's high in the air and seeing a beautiful view of mountains and forest and grassy plains.
The characters are purposely created to look cartoony and exaggerated features but it suits them perfectly and they look much smoother than the blocky characters in Final Fantasy VII.
I also like how some environments take you on a stage with a detailed wooden floor(which goes well with the theater-role-play style dialogue.
The graphics have other lovely artistic touches such as when Zidane and Garnet are having a conversation and there's a sunset and water in the background and you can see little boats on the water.
The CGI shows some exciting/intense moments story moments and shows some beautiful footage of Alexandria and I remember Kuja standing on top of the dragon while it was flying high in the sky and surrounded by clouds and it looked beautiful and there's other spectacular/shocking story scenes shown in CGI but I don't want to spoil them for you.
The music is suits the environments nicely.When you're inside towns you'll hear charming music.When you're in the desert you'll hear music that suits the feeling of knowing you have a daunting task ahead of you.When you're in the region where it snows a lot and the townsfolk are depressed the music will have a slightly depressing sound.When you're in the evil forest the music will sound spooky.
The music suits the emotional moments well,whether they are sad moments or it can motivate you to keep fighting on.You will also hear Garnet's beautiful singing during certain times in the game.
Overall,I think Final Fantasy IX is one of the best JRPGs ever made and it's the kind of JRPG that many people miss playing because it has so much charm and a world map with towns.I think it's hard not to like this game and I think that's why it's so universally loved amongst Final Fantasy fans.I think Final Fantasy IX is a good game for newcomers to JRPGs because it's a fairly forgiving JRPG and won't frustrate you with tough,maze-like dungeons unlike many other JRPGs,and because the style of storytelling and the type of characters the game has are very likable to most people.