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Final Fantasy IX Review

Developer: Square Publisher: Square EA
Release Date: November 14, 2000 Also On: None

There’s treachery afoot. In the bustling castle town of Alexandria, the airship “Prima Vista� and it’s crew of “performers� hatch a plan to kidnap Princess Garnet and hold her for ransom. Part of the crew plan to perform the popular play “I Want to be Your Canary� all the while you, Zidane, sneak into the palace and capture the princess. All goes accordingly until you find the princess and you realize that she’s actually trying to escape from the castle herself. She requests that you capture her and you attempt to make your escape. As you flee, Garnet’s mom (the Queen) assaults your ship and sends you careening into the depths of the Evil Forest. Crew scattered and devastated, thus begins the story of Final Fantasy IX.

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Although that intro may sound epic and exciting, that’s just about as epic and exciting as the story gets. Not that Final Fantasy IX is a boring game, it’s that just about every story element in Final Fantasy IX has been done before in previous RPGs. Angsty royalty drama, very feminine villain, whose disposition doesn’t match his personality, ancient ruins that hold the secrets of the world and how it came to be, and much much more.

My assumption is that Square was attempting to make Final Fantasy IX more old school or retro. Why? Because plenty of people talk about how gaming was better on the SNES, where all of Squares ideas were fresh and unheard of. I suppose that caught up to them and they became nostalgic, and went back to how the way things were. Which is fine by me, bringing good things back could only be good right? Well, sort of. They succeeded in certain areas, but other elements of the game weren’t as fortunate. The main one (and one of the most important parts of an RPG in my opinion) was the story line. It seems as though Square’s idea was to stick a bunch of old plot elements that people liked together and create one giant RPG story hodgepodge.

However, aside from the horribly predictable plot, the game has terrific character development. Zidane has a wacky and leisurely attitude that adds comedy to the game and also compliments on characters like Steiner, the uptight do-good Knight of Alexandria, who’s only goal for himself is to “escort� the princess back to the castle. The character development and the attachment the gamer get to the characters is easily one of Final Fantasy IX’s strong points. Part of what makes character development so good is the Active Time Event (ATE) system. Basically it’s separate side-stories seen through the eyes of the different characters when they’re split up in a town or in different towns, etc. ATE’s are activated by simply pressing the select button at certain indicated times throughout the game.

The gameplay in Final Fantasy IX also has quite the old-school feel. You have standard commands: attack, item, magic, etc. Both you and your enemy have Active Time Battle (ATB) bars that fill up and once full allow you to make your move. Magic has been brought back to the traditional MP system and summons (called Eidolons) look as wonderful as ever. Summons are not anywhere near as powerful as they were in Final Fantasy III, make it so they are not essential to winning a battle.

One of my particular favorite points of the gameplay is the ability system. All weapons, armor, accessories, etc, that you can equip to a character have certain abilities attached to them. Once equipped with the specific weapon, armor, etc, that character can then use the ability. However, once you take off that weapon, that ability is lost. However, when winning battles, you gain AP. Every ability that you can get has an AP bar, and once that bar is filled, you can use that ability whenever you please. Think of it as experience for abilities.

One particular part of the gameplay that I was not fond of however, was the new ‘limit’ system, now dubbed ‘trance mode’. Under the ATB bar, there’s a trance bar. Every time a character gets hit, the Trance bar goes up a bit, until it reaches it’s peak and your character goes into trance mode, which essentially means he lights up and has some extra abilities. Trance only lasts two or three turns at tops, and you don’t control if you go into trance or not. It’s automatic, making it extremely annoying when a low-level enemy hits you and you go into trance for no reason. Also, when the battle is over, trance is gone regardless of anything. Another downside of battles is the battle speed itself. It’s unusually slow. It’s fairly slow in the beginning of every Final Fantasy game, but even as you gain levels and the game progresses, you’ll still find yourself waiting just a bit too long each time to make your next move. Not that big of a deal, but can be a bit annoying when trying to level up.

The graphics in Final Fantasy IX are most certainly a sight to see. Improving on Final Fantasy VIII’s slightly blocky textures, characters look smoother and crisper than ever. All characters are drawn in the retro deformed style (big heads, tiny bodies). All dungeons, towns, and other backgrounds are all pre-rendered and are quite eye-popping. The most impressive feature the graphics have to offer for this game are the absolutely stunning CG sequences the game has to offer. Not only are they plentiful throughout the game, each of them sending you through a flurry of emotions. Where the plot fails to swoon you, the cut-scenes will be there to sweep you away.

Square once again has created an RPG that is essential to your collection. However, the plot line and terribly slow battle system make playing through the game a second time tiresome. For those who enjoy restarting games, you may want to break out Final Fantasy VIII again. But Final Fantasy IX is a solid game, with many upsides, characters you’ll fall in love with and CG scenes to die for. Any Final Fantasy fan should make sure to pick this one up.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 7
Final: 8
Written by Matt Evangelista Review Guide