Replay Value: 10
Note: This Summer we have reviewed the import version of Final Fantasy IX which is the same exact thing as the US version but with English text. As a result, we decided that there is no point for us to rewrite some parts of the review including graphics, controls, sound and such. But this is not the same review, about half of it was rewritten as we got a better feel of the game in English language so you won't be reading the same old thing.
I believe Shakespeare said it best when he wrote the famed quote "what's in a name". To this day on I still would take that quote and put it next to a franchise like Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, etc. So where am I going with this you say? Okay, take the quote and place it next to the name Final Fantasy, "what's in a name" and Final Fantasy stick to each other like crazy glue, why? Because FF is the perfect example to emphasize a quote like that. When you think Nike you think best athletic sneaker manufacturer, or McDonald's best fast food restaurant. But what about Final Fantasy, when I think of Final Fantasy many things pop in my head: "best RPG series ever created", "the greatest and best selling franchise ever" and "the franchise that carries games with perfection overflowing". The FF series has been through ten different console titles (including Tactics), the franchise carried itself through numerous consoles and handhelds before making its incredibly huge debut on the PS in early September of '97. FF7 broke records left and right, the game was sold out almost instantaneously. The wild sales gave gamers a big reason to trade in Saturn's or Nintendo 64's and pick up the gray box along with a copy of FF7.
Two years following FF7's release was the release of Final Fantasy 8, the game showed a stronger performance in sales and again boosted Sony sales. FF mania was definitely rising to its peak. A few months later in March SquareSoft revealed not one, not two but three new Final Fantasy titles. Final Fantasy 9, 10, and Online (XI) were showcased, Square asked the press not to take any pictures but some neglected the comment and went on a spree. So it was official a new FF game was ready to go, but the disappointing factor in all of this is that it would be the last FF title on the original Playstation. With the recent release of Chrono Cross, that I scored a perfect ten to, choosing game of the year may be the hardest thing I will have to do this year. Chrono Cross' amazing story line and killer visuals, may very well put one over Final Fantasy IX, that is if FFIX was a mediocre game, read the full review of the last Final Fantasy game to be released on the PSOne, and we can't argue with the score.
As soon as the FF IX disk was popped into my Playstation I knew that I would be seeing some of the best animated cut scenes that the PS has ever produced. As soon as the game kicked off with a very lovely CG intro I knew that the game has seen a big change since FF VII and VIII. Thanks to the return of Yoshitaka Amano who is the character designer, the FF series has returned to its roots. Now instead of the futuristic sci-fi style that was produced with FF VII and VIII, Final Fantasy IX is set in the more medieval era where flying ships are wooded not metal. With Amano's return the deformed characters are back but not like they were in FF7, instead of the boxy looking figures running on screen like FF7, FFIX has characters that are just slightly shorter replicas of their battle counterparts. Basically the only difference between the characters when they are battling or when they are in a location is the height and that's it. When you first take control of Zidane (main character) you will notice how much more gracefully the characters run, they sprint far more lively and realistically than FF7 or 8's. Honestly these are truly the best visuals in any FF game and that is including Chrono Cross.
The pre-rendered backgrounds have returned and they look better than ever, but are they as exuberant and riotous as Sony's Legend of Dragoon? In a way yes, LOD has higher definition renders than FFIX, but FFIX has the slight edge to LOD's character detail. FF IX has sharper and smoother characters than Legend of Dragoon, the random battle characters are nearly identical in both games, but the deformed characters look better in FFIX. The environments aren't all pre-renders though, when on the field map trees and mountains are polygonal, and they look quite nice to say the least, so it just goes to show you that FFIX isn't all about pre-renders. Of course those magnificent looking special effects have returned, summoning casts such as Ifrit or Shiva look great and best of all don't take as much time as they did in FFVIII. When using a cure spell, the neat looking 'cure rings' that surround the character look very lush, and when your character goes into a Trance effect, the colors for that are nothing short of eye-candy. Everything that made the FF franchise so visually stunning has returned better than ever, this game truly creates the best visuals in an RPG or in any game for that matter.
With the transition back into the medieval era, the classic sword, dagger and wizardry action has returned with the likes of Final Fantasy IX. Some gamers thought of Final Fantasy VIII as a disappointment, but I though of it as new approach to Final Fantasy. Hardcore FF gamers such as myself knew deep down that gamers wanted to see all of their characters on screen and in regular size, but when Square delivered we didn't enjoy it as much as we did the little characters. Final Fantasy VIII was quite confusing when first played, the Junction system and the GF's were more than a first time RPGer could handle and it was clear that FFVIII was meant to be played with a gamer that has good knowledge in RPG gaming, especially Final Fantasies. FF8's slightly extra degree of difficulty was noticed by Square and so they decided to bring the FF series back to where it belongs, that means deformed characters and medieval times. The new characters are incredibly loveable and are some of the best FF characters since VI or VII. It's clear that Square was aiming at more cartoonish and fantasy like characters to really set the mood of the game, I really love this new cast of characters, I would definitely list them as being the most inspired characters out of the eight other games, although maybe Final Fantasy V has something to say about that. The cast of characters rolls out like this; Zidane is the games primary character, he is a pirate and is ordered to kidnap Princess Garnet. Garnet is like I said the Princess of Alexandria, she is a classy girl, who runs into a very ironic twist at the beginning of the game. Steiner is Garnet's bodyguard, he pretty much will do anything to keep the lady safe, anything! And Vivi is among my favorite characters in any FF game (including IX), he is a little black mage who has gotten incredibly powerful magic skills, him and Steiner become great pals later on. Those four characters are what pretty much make up the whole game, you've also got important characters such as Amarant (the red headed guy), Eiko, Freya (Zidane's old time friend), and Quina Quen.
Final Fantasy IX is actually a game that isn't completely serious like Final Fantasy VII or VIII was, in fact this game is fun, yeah you heard me F-U-N. Not to put down the other FF games for their more serious approach, but FFIX really felt like a breath of fresh air, there are tons of mini-games to play (like FFVII) but the dialogue isn't as serious as you would think, instead the dialogue is more laid back or amusing (if you will). Surely most of the time the text is all about seriousness, but in many cases the text is a fun read, not exactly laugh out loud funny, but more of a short chuckle. The game's beginning is very ironic, it sets you off as Zidane who walks into a dark room, he lights up a candle and a man thereafter challenges you to a fight, this is where you first get to know the battle system, which isn't really all that different that FFVII's. After that the man who is your boss, will lead you into the strategy room and demonstrate a kidnapping of the Princess when the theatre ship called the Prima Vista (which is the ship where the crew is on) arrives at Alexandria. The game would then shift between control of Vivi and Steiner, and then the big moment comes as it is now time to kidnap Garnet as the whole town of Alexandria is watching a show, that the theatre ship Prima Vista is doing purposely to distract the town so that the princess can be kidnapped quietly. But in a strange ironic twist of events, Garnet is willing to be kidnapped, as she first tries to flee the castle, until she discovers Zidane, and here ladies and gentlemen is where the best RPG adventure begins.
Final Fantasy IX introduces a new little feature into the series called the Active Time Event (ATE for short). This is a feature that shows an important event that is going on at another area, and by pressing Select you can view whatever events are present, sometimes up to four or five can be displayed, other time just one, it all depends where you are. The battles are no more three characters per battle like FFVII and VIII where, this time you control four characters instead of three, making the battles a bit easier if they were with three characters. Each character has his/her own distinct ability, Zidane being a pirate knows how to steal and look at enemies inventories, Steiner has magic sword moves and a team up move with Vivi. Vivi is able to to cast Black Magic, and Garnet is able to cast White Magic such as cure, all of the distinct character traits really make FFIX better than it already is. Moogles and Chocobos are back again, this time Moogles serve you as Save spots and communication centers. Communication center you ask? If you talk to a Moogle and select the Mognet option, the Moogle may give you a letter to deliver to another Moogle friend, if you deliver you will be rewarded with a prize, so be nice if you want to be and help the Moogles out, it's a fun little journey.
Equipping weapons isn't done by building them out of scratch like it was in Final Fantasy VIII, traditionally you just go out to a weapon store and buy them, so no more tedious searches for parts anymore. Also magic attacks and special abilities come from an option called Ability, an Ability can be learned and then equipped to your character a lot like like the Materia system in FFVII, except once again Abilities are learned not bought. You have a limited number of abilities you can equip so make sure you choose the best you possibly can. Limit Breaks have returned, by they aren't exactly called that anymore, instead it's now called Trance. After your gauge fills up all the way your character will begin to glow very brightly, now every time your character attacks he/she will induce more power into his/her attacks or magic attacks. If you have made it this far, reading the review I solute you, and I will now reveal the fact that you can play FFIX two-players! It is very simple, open the menu, and select CONFIG. Highlight the option Battle Control and hit custom, there you will be able to choose what characters you want the second player to control, neat huh? One last thing and that's it, a new card game has been created in FFIX and it is called Tetra Master, the game will explain how to play it. Well I think I pretty much covered most of the gameplay aspects, just do yourself a favor, run outside and pick up Final Fantasy IX and Chrono Cross if you haven't done so already, I really can't decide which game is better.
The soundtrack has never received a perfect score from me in my previous reviews of FF7 and 8. That was due to the reason that some songs (maybe one or two) were kind of high pitched and at times annoying to listen to. But that has changed, the soundtrack in FFIX sounds more orchestrated and finely performed than previous FF games, making this arguably the best soundtrack in a Final Fantasy game. The town tunes sound either upbeat or just plain nice, all depending on what town you are in. Squaresoft has brought back the traditional battle win song from FFVII anf VIII, and even resurrected the Shinra marching band song from Final Fantasy VII, you know which one I'm talking about. Square has really set incredibly high standards for soundtracks on their previous games like FFVII and Chrono Cross, so it would take a lot to compete with the likes of those games, but in the end FFIX prevails and takes home the glory. The sound definitely gets a perfect score of 10.0 from me as well.
The control layout is exactly like Final Fantasy VII's (with an element of VIII thrown into it). Circle is still to accept while X is to reject, Square is to ask for a card duel and Triangle brings up the menu. But what has changed sort of drastically was the analog support, FF8 had only two motions of movement: walking and running. But FFIX has walking, pacing, and running all done by moving the analog stick with precision. The layout is exactly the same as the previous FF games on PS and even the Dual Shock has been juiced up.
Being the last FF game to ever be released on the Playstation, Squaresoft sure did make it the best Final Fantasy game to date, I'm sorry FFVII and VI, but I just love FFIX's fresh new gameplay, I know many of you die-hard FF fans out there may be thinking I'm senile, but I really think that IX is the best of the series just barely edging out VI and VII, but it being better than Chrono Cross is one decision I just can't make, I'm really having a dilemma here, Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy IX are so frigin' amazing that words just can't describe the sheer greatness that both games possess, don't pass up either one or you will be sorry.