To the few that don't know, Final Fantasy IX is yet another installment in the classic saga parented by RPG mastermind Hironobu Sakaguchi. From the beginning, Final Fantasy was supposed to be Squaresoft's "final frontier" or "final fantasy" in the gaming world before they filed for Chapter 11 or were eaten by moogles. They aped Enix's Dragon Quest and added some of their own flair, and created the first in what would be the greatest RPG series, next to Lunar, but easily the most successful. With the latest FF game, they actually listened to fans, and fixed up their long running RPG series into something worthwhile, at least story and character-wise.
Thankfully, this game doesn't face the same fate as Chrono Cross, and actually has a good storyline with some really well developed characters. The reason my praise for it ends there, is because of how incredibly easy the game is, and because The Xeno3998 has long gotten sick and tired of the Active Time Battle system, and the Final Fantasy franchise's overall lack of gameplay depth. Don't get me wrong, this game is fantastic in almost every regard, and deserves the amount of praise it has garnered, but the fact that this series has gone nowhere in terms of innovation since its initial offering, is inexcusable for such a fine company like Square.
The Kingdom of Alexandria is widely known across planet Gaia, as being the most powerful and popular kingdom of the entire planet. In this Kingdom, the beginning of the game takes place. As Zidane Tribal, member to a group known as Tantalus, you are to kidnap princess Garnet from Queen Brahne and the kingdom of Alexandria. Little does Zidane know, that his job will be easier than he expected, as Garnet (later known as Dagger) is planning to escape the castle herself. So with that, Zidane, members of Tantalus, Garnet, Vivi the black mage and Garnet's bodyguard Steiner, escape the castle in the Hilde Garde (a cargo/opera ship operating on MIST) and are soon shot down when the discovery of Garnet's kidnapping is made. This is just the beginning of what turns out to be one hell of an epic RPG quest that will be your favorite game until you reach the wasteland known as Disc 4, more on that later.
Really hitting home with intriguing personalities like Vivi the Black Mage, Final Fantasy 9 has probably the best characters in the series, complimented by some of the best character development ever in FF history. The Xeno3998 was truly surprised at the depth and true character of these characters; they each have their own reasons for joining your party, and their escapades through the duration of the game help to build their personalities better than any other 3D RPG out there. Vivi's charm and dialogue, for example, more than make up for his lack of a facial expression, and one would think if his true face would be revealed, that it would ruin his personality completely. Vivi is probably the only noteworthy 3D character ever in an RPG, and almost feels like a sprite. Other characters in the game include Steiner, Amarant, Zidane, Quina and Eiko.
Character development is excellent in this RPG...until the final disc that is. When you reach Disc four, every part of the game's charm seems to break down right before your eyes. The story reveals itself to be almost exactly the same thing as every other RPG released by Square, and all of the love you had for this game before the fourth disc might drift away depending on how much you love or hate clichéd endings to spectacular games (Grandia and Star Ocean 2 anyone?)
The storyline here progresses very well and has some notable plot twists that will make you like this game at the very beginning. I must say something about this game that I thought I would NEVER EVER SAY about a PSX Squaresoft translation...it stinks! No, no no, not a Legend of Dragoon type stench, but more of a rush job whiff that's unpleasant in light of Square's magnificent Vagrant Story translation.
The dialogue flows well, and helps to establish the personalities of the characters very nicely. There were quite a number of grammatical errors that I spyed with my little eye, and there were also a number of spelling errors within both the game's manual, and in the menu system of Final Fantasy IX. While everything in this game is certainly readable, the rather steep number of translation nitpicks I have with Final Fantasy IX must be mentioned. Hopefully, Squaresoft will take an extra week next time, to check over the entire text portion of their releases.
FFIX has a really well done storyline, one that will bring a smile to every seasoned RPG player within hours of game time. Certain problems exist with the ending of the game, which is horrendously clichéd and not nearly as memorable as the ending to say, Xenogears. In fact, I recommend (and I know that no one will listen to me on this one) that you stop playing this game after the third disc finishes. That way, you'll experience the best that Final Fantasy 9 has to offer, and not have to live through the incredibly dull and mindless science fiction-ish conclusion to FF9. Overall, a really well done storyline, but maybe they should have hired one of those Fan Fiction frequents to do the ending for this game, as Square obviously ran out of ideas after they spent so much time modeling the first three discs of storyline.
Is it too much to ask for difficult gameplay nowadays? Am I the only person that despises this game's lack of challenge or depth? With their other release this year, Vagrant Story, Square provided hardcore RPG gamers with an immensely deep, difficult and innovative RPG experience that was only dragged down by the repetitive block puzzles. With Chrono Cross and now Final Fantasy IX, Squaresoft has created two games that have absolutely NO gameplay or battle engine depth. They've created two games that are INCREDIBLY EASY and two games that are hardly innovative in any respect besides Chrono's battle engine.
Why does Square feel the need to short-change their fans this way? This happened on the SNES when they released FFVI, another pathetically easy FF game, and it's happening again. Anyway, I'm sure gamers that started playing RPGs on the Playstation will find these titles to be challenging, or if they don't, they'll probably excuse the lack of difficulty in FFIX. However, anyone that began playing RPGs with Phantasy Star and Gun Hazard Front Mission like the Xeno3998, will probably want to rent this game first, as the pathetic difficulty in FFIX almost drove me to hating this game.
Classic Active Time Battle is back, and I for one, am not grateful of this at all. Playing through endless random battles using the same strategy of attacking and the occasional magic or heal became a tedious chore after FFIV, and till this day is still too repetitive and nauseating to be any fun. Most enemies (including the bosses) can be defeated easily if you only attack with your party members, and it becomes ridiculously easy if you use the summons or get into a trance.
Besides the classical battle engine, gameplay also takes place on the world map and in towns, incredibly easy dungeons and Active Time Events. Your characters can be moved in eight directions, and are alerted when an item or interactive object is nearby. Equipping weapons and armor helps gain statistics and special abilities that can be turned into character abilities like HP +10% or Auto Potion. Characters gain experience and level up, and as they do this their battle stats and abilities all increase, thus giving them a bigger advantage in battle. That's about all there is to say about the gameplay, which can be seen in an almost identical form in the previous Final Fantasy games.
Hopefully the next FF game will have more depth, creativity and challenge to go along with its fully three dimensional world. The time has come for the Final Fantasy series to revolutionize the role playing game scene once more, and redundant play mechanics and an old battle system aren't going to help this franchise at all.
The entire FF world has been given a unique flavor in this latest romp. Some towns and cities are so intricately detailed and beautifully painted that it'll be hard to leave, and all the dungeons look nice too, despite their repetitive design patterns. Speaking for every prerendered background in this game, Final Fantasy IX has the most wonderful prerendered backgrounds you'll ever see in an RPG.
Even though the characters don't sport as many polygons and aren't as detailed as the ones in Chrono Cross, their animations never become jerky or unpleasant, and there is a spark of creativity in the designs of certain party members like Amarante or Eiko, something Chrono Cross' plethora of polygonal characters didn't have at all.
I was a little unimpressed with the Chrono Cross FMV, but Squaresoft has delivered some of the best CGI cutscenes with FFIX. The battle between Bahamut and Alexander over Alexandria Kingdom has to be seen to be believed, and the Iifa Tree/Bahamut goes whacko FMV scene is probably the best EVER in the realm of Computer Graphics cut scenes. I have a quarrel with the animations of Zidane and Steiner during these FMVs, as they become very ugly when they open their mouths, but that's not enough to stop FFIX from having the best Full Motion Video cutscenes ever in any RPG that doesn't have anime FMV.
The visual presentation in FFIX is not surprisingly, the best ever on PSX. Though I would have scored it perfect if the characters were better detailed, and if the game kept its colorful atmosphere for the entire game, not just the first half. But I still prefer two-dimensional sprites over 3D characters, and FFIX doesn't have that, so I must mark it down.
If ever there was another OST from Squaresoft as good as this game's, I haven't seen it. Sure the soundtrack isn't as emotional or memorable as Chrono Cross, but it improves over previous Final Fantasy scores enough to make me love it more than CC. The main area of this game's musical score that was focused on was the battle theme. As soon as you engage in your first FFIX battle, you'll be greeted by an explosive orchestral theme that takes a lot of inspiration from previous FF games, but is in many ways, an entirely new composition.
Town and dungeon music also feels superb, and is the best in Final Fantasy history. Burmecia's theme, for example, is a well-orchestrated, moody tune that fits Burmecia's rainy and lifeless setting. Possibly the best thing that can be said of the town and dungeon music for the most part, is that it NEVER becomes repetitive or stale, and manages to remain fresh for the duration of the FF experience.
It's becoming increasingly difficult to rate Squaresoft games in the sound area, mainly due to the lack of voiceovers, and because FF has always allowed its music to dominate the area of sound. Any sound that's in this game is nice, but it's really hard to say as the only thing the Xeno3998 remembers from FFIX is the music, which practically dominates over every other audio facet.
Overall, Final Fantasy IX is a return to all that made this legendary franchise what it is today; great storylines with unique and well developed personalities, simple and unchallenging gameplay and spectacular graphics, complimented by miraculous musical composition. Though I would've easily given FFIX a 97 or higher had it been much more challenging and innovative, and had the gameplay been more than simple weapon and ability management and strategy-free battling.
Don't look at this score and think I don't like FFIX, the Xeno3998 loves it, but it's time for something new and innovative, something more challenging and an overall brand new image for the FF franchise. A highly recommended RPG to everyone, but it doesn't stand a chance against Ogre Battle 64, Front Mission 3 and Lunar 2 in the opinion of the Xeno3998.