REVIEW: Final Fantasy IX

REVIEW: Final Fantasy IX

Final Fantasy IX

For those unfamiliar with the series (Do you even exist?) , Final Fantasy is the most iconic JRPG series of all time. Its first titles were released when you only knew Geralt de Rivia from books, many years before the age of dragons or the time when undead wandered over the land looking for souls. It fought for the preference of Japanese public against the Dragon Quest series from Enix for over a decade and, in my opinion truly deserves the crown it holds.

At the end of millennium, after two titles based in contemporaneous age (especially the 8th title, which had a very modern-esque theme), the series went back to its roots with Final Fantasy IX, bringing back elements that fascinated generations of players since its first adventure: magic kingdoms, knights in shining armor, airships crossing the sky and many different non-human races populating the world. Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator and producer of the series said at the time it was a tribute for the old-school fans, those who followed the series since the beginning. And what a tribute, if you ask my opinion!

Needless to say the game was a huge success, selling more than 5 million units and it still owns the best Metacritic score (94) for all games in Final Fantasy family, even though its 4-CDs adventure had a cooler reception than its predecessors at the end of 32-bits generation, selling fewer copies than FF VII and FF VIII. I was introduced to the series in FF VII and went through VIII, Tactics and IV (on mobile), but except for a few initial minutes, never really played this gem from Squaresoft (before its fusion with Enix, becoming Square Enix) so this review was very special for me. Not only for the nostalgia but for the feeling of discovering a game that still is considered one of the best RPGs to date.

Today, after 15 titles on the main series (not counting X-2, XIII-2 and Lighting Returns) and MANY spin-offs (that sum scary 87 TITLES!!) with over 144 million copies sold, card games, animes, mangas, books and movies, it’s hard not to think about Final Fantasy as THE most prominent RPG series at all times. And to think it all started in 1987 with what would be Sakaguchi-San’s last attempt on the game industry…

Well, history lessons apart, let’s now see what this game is all about. You better take your time because this is going to be a longer-than-usual review.

Our beautiful Princess Garnet Til Alexandros XVII salutes you
  • Visuals: I can think of some games that aged better, but for a 19yo game, Final Fantasy IX is something still very charming. It’s important to note this isn’t a remaster or an HD version. It’s the same old game you played as a kid. Old school players won’t mind at all, but those who never experienced the original title (like younger players) may not understand how these visuals were amazing back in time or how those granulated CG scenes were the best that could be extracted from a console in that time. I agree with you when you say these pre-rendered scenarios can be considered ugly today, but they are like The Godfather or Star Wars original trilogy: they are classics above time!
  • Audio: Final Fantasy series has a long history of wonderful melodies and compositions. I may have not played them all, but FF9 has already become one of my favorites! The work from master Nobuo Uematsu is still magnificent! It’s indescribable how his team manages to put that much emotion in each track of the game. And I dare to say that it isn’t a piece of single music or a pair of tracks that will remain in your memory forever (like Aerith’s or Sephirot’s theme from FF7 did), but the whole work here is beyond remarkable!
  • Gameplay: So you’re used to fighting enemies with Noctis and his pals, right? Well, you better forget about it, son, because FF9 is an old-school turn-based RPG! When roaming in the world map and inside dungeons, you’re subject to random encounters that take you to the battle screen, where your team of four characters will battle the enemies. Here your characters take action by filling their ATB gauges (short for Active Time Battle), a trademark of the series. When your bar is full, you select an option between attack, defense, use an item or skill (and a few more) and characters and enemies take actions one after the other. The higher the speed of one character, the faster his bar will fill. Besides fighting enemies, you have a HUGE world to explore! When in cities, you can interact with NPCs to discover more about the world of Gaia, buy or sell weapons and items, synthesize new equipment, play a card game called Tetra Master (we will talk about it later), do side quests, steal things (what? Do you think it’s ok to enter NPCs houses to open chests and look for hidden items?) and more. I can guarantee there’s a lot to keep you busy or to take a break between one story mission and another.
  • Characters and plot: You may not be used to it, but Final Fantasy games always had a very interesting cast of characters, friends or foes, title after title. As you could expect, not every character will be a hit for all players (cough, cough, cough, like Laguna in FF VIII, cough, cough), but most of them are, at least, remarkable. There are, of course, those who really shine among the series long story and become part of other games (check the Kingdom Hearts series to see what I’m talking about). Some of them are always present too (I’m talking to you, Cid). You start your journey in FF9 playing as Zidane (not the French goat) Tribal, a 16yo dangler thief who’s part of the Tantalus theater group and was assigned the mission to kidnap Princess Garnet Til Alexandros XVII, a 16yo summoner heir to the throne of Alexandria, who was planning to run away from the Palace and finds in this kidnapping the perfect opportunity to escape. But Adelbert Steiner, a 33yo Knight, head of the Knights of Pluto, who’s responsible for the princess life and will do whatever it takes to protect her, including going along their kidnappers while trying to take her back to the palace. And in the middle of this mess is Vivi Orunitia, the 9yo black mage that finds himself accidentally trapped and taken along the princess. And this is just your initial group, right on the beginning of the plot. Later, Amarant Coral, a 26yo monk, Freya Crescent, a 21yo dragoon, Quina Quen, an 89yo blue mage and Eiko Carol, a 6yo summoner will also join your group, each one with their own reasons and motivations to accompany you in this journey. In case you don’t know, each characters’ job is related to one of the jobs or classes from the classic games of the series. And trust me when I say: I started this journey knowing nothing about this plot and wow… Just… Wow. It’s been a long time since I last played a final fantasy game and I have forgotten how deep and emotional their plots can be. I know the more recent titles of the series have received bad critics about it (cough, cough, FF XIII Lighting’s saga, cough, cough), but here you have one of the best of the series… well, at least from the ones I know.
  • Game Over? Oh no! I can’t say if it was implemented on this re-release or if it was already available on the initial release of the game, but man!, I remember how I was afraid of the game over screen in previous FF games. That moment when you were far, far away from your last save point and a tough enemy on a random encounter caught you off guard… Well, this is no longer a problem because now the game offers the option to continue from the screen you are. Pretty useful for quick restarts when you’re defeated or when you lose by perfect in a Tetra Master match.
  • Tetra Master – It’s time to duel! After a good reception for FF8 card game, Squaresoft brought us a new card game on FF9: Tetra Master. In this game, you pick a deck of five cards and battle against the opponent in a random grid. You and your opponent cards have some arrows in one or more of its sides and, when you place a card against a card which side in contact with your own card doesn’t have an arrow, you take control of your opponent’s card. If both cards have an arrow one against the other, the cards will clash. I must confess I have yet to understand how this mechanic works: there are some numbers and letters in each card that indicate something I still haven’t figured out. Or maybe because I skipped its tutorials. Whatever. Just keep in mind that, after both players place all their cards in the grid, the player who controls more cards win. For collectors and completionists, like me, it’s the mini-game that keeps singing gotta catch ‘em all in my head from the first time you play it!
The good and old turn-based battles
  • Easier than I can remember: As this version of the game is based not in the original, but in one of its remasters (probably the one for PS3), it also comes with many tools that make the game easier. Whenever you pause the game, you can activate the Battle Assistance, Max status, High-Speed Mode or Safe Travel. These tools are useful for those who want to speed run the game or try to get some missing achievements in the middle of the game. But do yourself a favor and NEVER activate any of them to enjoy the game as it was meant to be.
Don’t worry, my friend: these add-ons made the game too easy for you to loose this battle
  • Do you speak Japanese? (no score influence) Well, I hope you do. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to keep track of your achievements. It looks like somebody forgot to use Google Translator in the achievements names and description.
Beating this boss will be easier than understanding most of your achievements
Score: 91%
Every Final Fantasy game isn’t a game for you to play on a rush to see the ending. It is a game for those who enjoy a trip as much as the destination. It’s a game for those who enjoy the exploration of the world, looking for each one of its secrets and discovering all the love its producers have put into its development, as you unfold an epic story that will touch your feelings. This game may be older than most of Life is Xbox readers and its gameplay may not seem appealing for everyone. But this was a benchmark back in its time and now players from all ages will have the opportunity to try Final Fantasy IX and understand why the series is still a reference for comparison with other games nowadays. And I would like to finish this review thanking Square Enix to giving us, Xbox players, the opportunity to play, once again or for the first time, this masterpiece of yours. And please keep bringing all the titles of this wonderful series (and series related) to us, your Xbox fans.

Developer:  SQUARE ENIX CO. LTD.  Publisher:  SQUARE ENIX CO. LTD
Played on: Xbox One X Also available on: Windows, as a Xbox Play Anywhere Title
Time to beat: 60 hours for the main story or 100 hours to fully complete it
Achievement difficulty for 1000 Gamerscore: Really tough. There are plenty missable achievements. Not to mention the “Jump rope 1000 times without tripping”
Perfect for: Old-school JRPG lovers. 
Xbox Game Store link: Click here