Top 100 PS1 Review: #10 – Final Fantasy IX (1999)

I Haven’t Cried This Much Since… FFX 😢

Has there been a more relatable, unrelatable character than Vivi?

Ape’s Ranking: #10/100
My Rating: cropped-star.jpgcropped-star.jpgcropped-star.jpgcropped-star.jpgcropped-star.jpg 

I might have made a mistake. 

When thinking about Final Fantasy, I rarely thought of Number Nine. My first thoughts run to FF6 and my childhood, followed by pique experiences with FF7 and 10, and then the conundrum that is FF8. Nine was phased out of my thought process which is incredible given how much time I spent playing it as a kid (I fondly remember going to sleep with the soundtrack from a CD I burned that took forever to curate on a 56k modem).

Playing it again as an adult was a revelation. While there are things to be picky about (playing the original, battles and overworld travel feels like walking through molasses), its solid cast of main characters, plethora of mini-games, and overarching story overcome every complaint.

When I finished Final Fantasy X, I asked myself whether I had to update my moniker of Best Game In the Series. Damn if I’m not facing some more tough decisions.

Finding two chocographs in one game of Hot ‘n Cold.

[OVERVIEW]

The game’s foundation was to be a summary of the Final Fantasy brand. Predominantly retrospective, IX was meant to be a celebration of the myriad of motifs, symbols, and themes that were built over the years.

Unlike the recent releases, IX returns to a more fantasy and medieval feel that permeated the early games. The classic jobs return (knight, black mage, white mage, thief, dragoon) as well as a more “cartoonish” art direction.

The story starts with a band of thieves masquerading as a theater troupe. Their true mission is to kidnap Princess Garnet while entertaining the Queen of Alexandria with the popular play I Want To Be Your Canary. Zidane, the craftiest of the thieves, enters the castle to apprehend the princess to only have his plan disrupted…by the princess trying to use the play to escape on her own!

Steiner, the knight in shining armor. Kind of. Well, not at all.

[ANALYSIS]

The overall vibe of FF9 is whimsical. While it faces very dark and heavy themes, its atmosphere and characters are mostly light-hearted.

Let’s Get To Know Each Other.

There is a strange demarcation amongst the playable characters. Some are super powerful and fulfill their role perfectly. Others seem almost like place holders and add little outside of their momentary importance.

Steiner, leader of the Knights of Pluto and sworn duty to protect Princess Garnett, is a stickler used for comedic relief. Being overly dedicated to rules and taking his job too seriously, Steiner can’t see the forest for the trees and is the butt of many jokes.

Things get even more bizarre with Quina. A gourmet chef, you find him/her (the gender is always left ambiguous) in a local swamp chasing frogs. Like Steiner, s/he is used for comedic relief however their schtick is being absolutely bizarre and oblivious.

Final Boss Monologues – others mentioned friends and fate but Quina discusses food.

And how can you not mention the most important character of all: Vivi.

Vivi is a young and innocent black mage that discovers he is really a machine made for destruction. He discovers a group of other self-aware black mages in their own village where he learns about his ultimate fate: they die a year or so after production. For the rest of the saga, Vivi has to grapple with what it means to live in the face of your impending death.

Vivi grapples with existence.

While he seems completely foreign to us, his story isn’t: we come into this world with an unstained outlook, learn that we all ultimately perish, and then resiliently fight against this fate. Watching Vivi grow into his own person with thoughts, ideas, and wants makes you realize that life is really worth fighting for. His part in the ending had me BALLING.

Then, you have this second tier of Amarant and Freya. While both passing the bad ass test, neither really adds much to an otherwise stellar cast of characters.

Games, Games, Games.

If you thought blitzball was time consuming and Triple Triad cards worthwhile, wait until you see what FF9 has in store for you. What makes this game different is the variety of things it has for you to do. While Final Fantasy is famous for end games chores and tasks, FF9 really runs the gamut of different options.

My favorite is Chocobo Hot ‘N Cold where you hunt for buried treasure in chocobo forests. The shrill of your chocobo tells you how close you are to hitting an item. Special maps (chocographs) are hidden within the dirt. With these chocographs, you go to the world map to try and discover buried treasure full of goodies.

I appreciate a good minigame that also intertwines with actual gameplay. Hot N’ Cold will give you plenty of special weapons and armor that then gives you special advantages against enemies.

Also involved is mognet, a mail delivery system between moogles, catching frogs with Quina in swamps, collecting/playing card matches all over Gaia, finding hidden treasures scattered in cities, jump roping, sprinting, and more.

I always liked catching the baby ones OM NOM NOM.

Ready to Rumble.

The equipment management style of FF9 strikes a satisfying balance. Typically, Final Fantasy either allows little customization with locked-in characters or options overboard. Here, each character has their special abilities that you can’t change, but you learn equippable effects from armor and weapons. With an allowance of points, you then can select certain things such as preventing status effects, buffing character stats, or special bonuses like earning more gil after battles.

Every character can be unique with these special abilities.

Slow Down.

My only problem with this game — it. moves. so. slow.

Battles have a long intro of winding colors that transfigure to a white screen then roll over to a dramatic overview of the battle scene finally showing our characters and enemies. Many of the battles start with characters having nothing in their action meter, meaning you have to wait several seconds for them to be charged to even select “fight.” The animations are drawn out which leads to further time watching nothing happen.

This is also true of traveling on the world map, EVEN WITH AN AIRSHIP. Searching for the hidden items starts to feel like a chore given the several minutes it takes for your characters to traverse the world map.

Thankfully, the remaster eliminates this with a fast-forward button, but I don’t know why the original developers thought it a good idea to make it THIS slow. I know it was supposed to be a throwback to the history of final fantasy, but I didn’t think they should imitate the slowness of NES computing.

Another frustrating component is the trance ability where characters can select some of their most devastating attacks. A trance bar slowly fills up when damage is received by a character, and it takes many, many battles to fully fill. To offset this, trance is OP strong, like kill a boss in a few hits strong.

This wouldn’t be so bad but trance is an automatic ability; when the gauge fills, it transforms the character into their badass form. More likely than not, you’ll piss away the strongest attacks in the game on a ragtag team of goblins. It is such a waste.

Zidane’s trance form fits right in with those storming the capitol.

[CONCLUSION]

FF9 honors the legacy of the entire series, and I couldn’t suggest a better entry point into it than this one.

Other People’s Takes:

  • A Gaymer’s Tale: “FFIX is a Final Fantasy fan’s Final Fantasy. And though FFX remains my favorite, the ninth installment was a wonderful ride.
  • Reggie Reviews:  This game holds up perfectly to this day and there’s never a bad time to revisit this classic. If I had the nostalgia specs on, this would be a perfect 10.
  • JRPG Chronicles: “It feels like a love letter to veterans of the franchise, yet is still a remarkable game in its own right for any newcomers wanting to try out their first JRPG.”

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