Final Fantasy IX Review
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 in Japan not to long from its announcement, but the disappointing factor in all of this is that it would be the last FF title on the original Playstation. Final Fantasy IX was scheduled to be released on July 21st in Japan, and then surprisingly the game was pushed forward to July 7, 2000. After a hiatus week with FF IX non-stop I think I am ready to review Final Fantasy IX, and the result isn't too surprising.
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 FF IX. 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.
Some people though 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 8 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 FF8 was meant to be played with a gamer that has good knowledge in RPG gaming. 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. What came to a surprise to me was that the card game from FFVIII stayed in FFIX, and it is played the same way by pressing Square. So what has changed since Final Fantasy VII & VIII? That's easy, Final Fantasy IX is actually a "fun" game to play. As soon as the game starts and you see a tail on Zidane you know that FFIX will be filled with funny and memorable moments. The cast of characters in FFIX is quite nice you have Zidane (who for some unknown reason has a monkey tail), Vivi who is a wizard and is also one of my favorite FF characters of all time. Then you Garnet and Stiener, Garnet is a princess and Stiener is her bodyguard. As the game goes on, you will come along a few sad turn of events, meet new characters, kick some ass, and have fun while your doing it.
(POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD IN THIS PARAGRAPH, READ AT OWN RISK)
Final Fantasy IX starts out with Zidane as a pirate in a way who is on a mission to kidnap the princess Garnet. The game starts out in a dark room with a candle in Zidane's hand, he lights up the center of the room and his friends come into the room to see who it was crawling around. A man will challenge you to a practice fight and this is where you first experience the battles. They aren't too much different from FF7 so you have nothing to worry about. From there, the man will take you into his strategy room and play with puppets for whatever reason. After a while the game switches to Vivi and you play as him for awhile, and then you play as Stiener for awhile. Generally the beginning of FFIX is something that really makes you get to know the game much better. Later on Zidane, Vivi, Stiener, and Garnet will join forces and form a team and hope to escape from Alexandria but the Alexandrian forces won't be going down without a fight so they fire at the airship because they also want their Princess Garnet back but she coincidentally refuses to stay and leaves with Zidane and his crew of men (including Vivi and Steiner. I'll go as far as that, Final Fantasy IX has a whole lot of twist of events, it has two player gameplay where a second controller can control either number of the four fighters during a battle (yes there are four fighters during random/boss battles), Chocobos and Mogs make their return in full glory as well as the card game making its second appearance in a Final Fantasy game.
Final Fantasy IX is over stuffed with great fun, in the near beginning of the game I played a "Simon says" sort of game where I was dueling somebody and in order to win I had to tap the buttons displayed on the screen. Final Fantasy IX also introduces something new to the series called the Active Time Event (ATE). This is where you will get a message saying that there is something happening in the world of Final Fantasy that the gamer should know about. By pressing Select you can be shown what Stiener is doing in his off time, or what Vivi does for fun, ATE informs you on what's happening around the FF world for an easier journey. Limit Break's is what I loved about Final Fantasy VII, when a characters limit gauge was full they would unleash a whole lot of fury and I'm happy to say that they are back in full force but are called Trance Attacks. I'm not too familiar with the magic system and if it has any deep elements in it, but I have summoned ice, fire, and lighting already. Speaking of magic system, I happened to find an extremely cool summon done with Stiener. When Stiener is ready to go pick the third option and select the very first spell (which should cost 6MP), use it and Vivi will cast a little magic on Stiener. So after Vivi gives Stiener a one time magic effect, Stiener will automatically sprint then swipe his sword at the enemy and at the same time causing a burst of flame to release. Unlike Final Fantasy 8, in FFIX after you buy your weapons you can hit a special "auto-equip"' button which automatically equips your characters with the best equipment you have. So much to say, so little time, but here goes: Final Fantasy IX is definitely an RPG gamer's dream come true, the return of Amano is a great step into making the FF series as good as it gets. Reaching nearly 30 million in sales the FF series is with no doubt the best video gaming franchise ever.
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 sound 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.
Final Fantasy IX is currently not only the best Final Fantasy game but is also the best game that the Playstation has to offer, period. It surpasses the likeliness of Final Fantasy 7 and adds some of its own flavor to earn the title as "the best current PS title". I honestly couldn't find a single flawed aspect in Final Fantasy IX, hell it even has a two player mode, how 'bout that? Final Fantasy IX is expected to be released around the world this November 2000, my guess 11/11/00.