inal Fantasy fans are always quick to argue about which is the best in the series. Many of these die-hards scoff at Square’s first two PlayStation efforts, admitting that they were pretty to look at, but complaining that the fun somehow got lost in the glitz. Final Fantasy IX certainly doesn’t lack in flash, but its back-to-basics gameplay structure is sure to keep both new-school and old-school FF fans happy. In fact, I predict that years down the road Final Fantasy IX will be the most fondly remembered of the PlayStation run.
First and foremost, it must be said that Square has outdone itself on the graphical presentation front – and that’s saying a hell of a lot. The FMVs are, of course, top-notch as always, but the real eye-grabber of the game is the environments. The combining of painted backgrounds with rendered graphics and streaming animations brings the cities to life. Also, veering away from the realistic presentation of FFVIII allows for more exaggerated character animations that serve to attract even more attention.
Gameplay has made a return to its roots in a big way. For the first time on PlayStation, up to four characters can be on the battlefield. This extra person is a serious boon since no longer can all characters do all things. For example, Steiner is a straightforward fighter, and he’ll never be able to use black magic like Vivi or steal items like Zidane. To give players a bit of control over their characters’ specific focus, Square has implemented an ability system. Equipping items to certain characters allows them to use abilities ranging from being immune to poison to always regenerating hit points in combat. Each ability takes a certain number of Ability Points to learn (which are gained after combat along with experience) and require a set number of Magic Stones to activate (which are gained by characters as they go up levels). Once an ability is learned, that character no longer needs to have that item equipped to have access to it.
Though players will be more than pleased with the main meat of the game, it’s the multitude of minigames that will send them into ecstatic (and frustrated) fits. There are tons of small games – such as jumping rope, choreographing a sword fight, and running races – to take up an hour or so of your time, but there are also games that run through the entire course of the adventure – such as Quad Mist, Chocobo digging, and the mystery of Mognet – that are so huge they barely qualify as minigames. A person who barrels through Final Fantasy IX could probably finish it in 40 hours, but a completist is likely to spend three times that amount.
Personally, I spent around 70 hours playing Final Fantasy IX before writing this review. About halfway through the endeavor, it was all I was thinking about when I wasn’t at my PlayStation, and I even dreamed about it at night. I’m still not sure if it’s my favorite of all-time, but this level of obsession certainly says to me that it’s a great RPG. There are tons of inside jokes for those who have followed the series all the way through, yet plenty to draw in those who are jumping on for the first time. All in all, a great end to a great run.