“This is my home. This is the place I call home.”

Before we start, a few things about Final Fantasy for the uninitiated. It’s a Japanese Role-Playing-Game series created by Squaresoft (now Square Enix, which is pretty much the JRPG company), and it is pretty much the classic JRPG series (at least in the US). There are 14 main games, all unconnected, and about fifty billion sequels, spinoffs, etc. Most gamers (including me) started their foray into fantasy RPGs with a Final Fantasy game. And no, at the rate they’re going, there will probably never be a Final Final Fantasy.

Final Fantasy IX

Synopsis: Zidane Tribal is a member of Tantalus, a traveling theater troupe-cum-band of thieves, who have been hired to kidnap Crown Princess Garnet of Alexandria under the cover of performing a popular play. But when Garnet herself asks Tantalus to kidnap her, the chain of events that follows finds Zidane separated from his companions and drawn into the conflict looming between the four great nations of the Mist Continent. As Zidane and Garnet flee from the power-hungry Queen Brahne, they begin to uncover a plot that goes far beyond the threat of war, and could in fact lead to the destruction of the world…

Review: Let’s get one thing out of the way first.

In this blog, video games are to be treated with the exact same respect as any other form of media. I’m not talking about a shoot-em-up or a text adventure– games on a blog like this are going to have substance.

Everyone okay with that? Good. Now let’s move one.

So… you know how I mentioned that medieval/European steampunk/magitech-y style was my favorite fantasy setting?

Yeah, that all started with this game. I was about eleven when I first played it, so I was already way into both fantasy and video games, but this style was new to me. I had already played the groundbreaking Final Fantasy VII and thus  had all my expectations for what a game should be like pretty much blown out of the water, but the visuals in FFIX just clicked with me.

I mean, yes, the game is eleven years old, so of course it’s going to look dated now, but I maintain that it’s one of the best-looking games for the original Playstation. And really, there’s a whole lot of beautiful and detailed worldbuilding going on, and you know how much I love worldbuilding. The one thing that always bugged me a little about the game’s appearance were the appearance of the people, as the combination of realistic graphics and an exaggerated comic style felt a bit off. However, I always get used to it after playing for a little while, and it doesn’t hurt the game’s tone at all. (People who dismiss FFIX as a “kiddy game” because of the art style? Go away.)

The main cast. Of course they look silly, it’s a JRPG.

The music is some of Nobuo Uematsu’s best work– and considering he’s one of the most famous video game composers of all time, that’s saying something. However, it’s more like the entire soundtrack overall is good, rather than there being a few really standout tunes (not that I don’t have my favorites, of course). There is no voice acting at all, since this is an old game, but thankfully the localization team did a great job with the massive amounts of dialogue typical for a JRPG. In fact, this is one of the best English scripts of its time. (I have heard great things about Vagrant Story, another Square game, but I’ll have to see it to believe it.)

Now, since this is a video game, I do have to talk about gameplay a bit. This is classic JRPG stuff– explore the world, battle monsters, dungeon-crawl, and advance the ridiculously long and complicated story. FFIX deliberately hearkens back to the more traditional gameplay of the old Super Nintendo Final Fantasies, while keeping the gaming interface fresh and modern (for 2000… but really, it still isn’t that hard to get into now). It’s well-paced, well-balanced, and intuitive. People new to Final Fantasy and wondering where to start should at least take a look. This isn’t a game review blog, so I’ll leave it at that and not go into specifics.
While Final Fantasy IX is, at least initially, much more lighthearted than previous games in the series, this does not make it a kiddy game filed with sunshine and rainbows, as some people dismissed it. And it’s a shame, because this is the Final Fantasy most people seem to forget about because of that. It is still a very idealistic game, but its storyline is complex, emotionally mature, and at times achingly bittersweet. I didn’t get the finer points of the storyline and themes until I replayed it years later– kind of like The Last Unicorn, except that this was never meant for kids.
One thing I love about the story is how enjoyable all the characters are, and how much more character-driven the story is. The way they interact is just wonderful, and it’s great to have a friendly, happy-go-lucky main hero like Zidane after three previous brooding, conflicted, and tormented main FF characters. Unfortunately, most of the character developement moves to focus on Zidane, Garnet and Vivi after the first half or so of the game. The other party members are just as excellent, but underused. Not that I don’t love those three and how they develop, of course. Zidane is in fact my favorite FF hero– while he may be the youngest, he is certainly one of the most emotionally mature. And Garnet–surprise!– is my favorite FF princess. She does a great job at pulling herself out of various damsel-in-distress pitfalls. The romance that eventually develops between them is slow-paced, natural, and never overtakes the main plot (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy VIII!)
Am I forgetting any– oh right, Kuja.
When your game’s main villain is a hammy, femmy guy wearing a metal thong, it is a very difficult task indeed to make him not only interesting, but legitimately threatening. Kudos, Square.
Does FFIX have problems? Of course. I think its main one is that it stays too close to the Final Fantasy formula while FFVII and VIII did great jobs with shaking it up. As I said before, a lot of the party members are just not developed enough. It has pacing issues in its last third or so, but that’s common with most JRPGS. Overall, it holds a special place in my very favorites as a beautiful, enjoyable, well-made and inspirational work of fantasy.
Since this game is so old, it’s very difficult to find an original copy, but if you have means to access the Playstation Network, it is available to download. Get it if possible; it’s well worth the $10.
I was going to draw a picture for you all, but my computer is being fixed at the moment, so I’ll leave you with images from some of my favorite scenes in the game.

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Filed under fantasy talk, Final Fantasy, review, video games

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