- Incredible visuals

- Excellent story

- Very fleshed out characters

- Nostalgia galore

- Some catchy tunes

 

 

- Way too many battles

- Sound effect and musical instrument quality is sub-par


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Platform: Playstation

Developer: Square

Publisher: Square EA

 

Genre: RPG

MSRP: $40US

ESRB: T (Teen)

 

Released: Q4 2000

 

Final Fantasy IX

Score: 8.8 / 10

Okay, Squareís taking one last bow with their Final Fantasy series on the Playstation before they mosey on over to the next gen consoles with it. It doesnít present a lot that is new in the way of gameplay, instead consisting of an amalgamation of many of the great features of previous installments. From there it is a salute to all of the great times gamers have had over the years, from the visuals, to the tunes, to the gameplay, thereís so much nostalgia. While the game will be plenty of fun for relative newcomers to the series, itís the long time veterans that will really appreciate it.

First off, the graphics are truly stunning. Square has always had a reputation for absolutely baffling gamers with the insanely high quality of the visuals in their games, and FF9 continues the tradition. The detail to the characters and environments is incredible, not to mention that the CG cutscenes are top-notch. Adding to the gameís graphical charm is long time character designer to the Final Fantasy series, Amano Yoshitaka (who did not do the character design for Final Fantasy VII and VIII). His whimsical, surreal stylings do so much to enhance the fantasy environments.

Just as good as the visuals is the story in Final Fantasy IX. It flows at a nice solid pace most of the time (there are a couple of slow points), and itís just as epic and gripping as previous quests. The characters do a lot to add to the experience as they feel very real, and are easy to relate to with their hopes, fears, dreams, and whatnot. Steiner is torn between duty and his conscience, Vivi is on a quest of self discovery, and so on. There is also a feature called "Active Time Events" in the game. At certain times, the party splits up in a town to do their own thing. At this point the player takes control of one of the characters and wonders around the town. Every so often an Active Time Event prompt will show up, and upon selecting it players will get to look in on what another character is doing. It really helps flesh out all of the charactersí personalities and is an interesting feature. All in all the story is fantastic and shows just how much skill Square has at creating an enthralling narrative.

The battles are very well laid out. Thereís the usual mix of spells, melee attacks, and character specific attacks. Summoning is back again, but players will be relieved to know that this time around the animations are much shorter than in previous Final Fantasies, so you donít have to worry about seeing such long sequences over and over again. Best of all about the battles is that the party can once again have four members in it at a time. This really changes the dynamics of battle when compared to FF7 and FF8. Limit Breaks are also back in the form of "Trance" where charactersí have a bar that fills below their health meter from taking damage, and once itís full they go into this super-charged mode and are capable of inflicting awesome damage. Itís setup well, and feels far more balanced than previous incarnations of the ability. The one downside to battles is that there are just way too many of them. You can hardly walk five steps without getting into another encounter. Item shops in RPGs should all be required to sell monster repellent so that players can actually get things done a little quicker.

As was said earlier, there is a lot of nostalgia flowing through this game, and it will make the experience a lot sweeter for long time fans of the series. There are subtle references to previous titles, some of the songs make allusions to past games, and then thereís Vivi, a harking back to the black mages with their pointy hats. These nods to past Final Fantasies really bring a warm, fuzzy feeling to the game.

 

The real weak point in the game comes from the audio, which is in desperate need of a facelift. The quality of the sound effects has barely improved in the last five years, and the same goes for the quality of the instrument sounds, which are more often than not no better than that of MIDI (with the exception of the occasional live track). This is really a shame. Square puts all of the time, money, and effort into putting in extremely high quality visuals for the game, but leaves the audio high and dry. They have arguably one of the best composers in the games industry with Nobou Uematsu, but they severely limit the tools he has to work with. Hopefully when Final Fantasy moves to a next gen console Mr. Uematsu will be able to do the entire soundtrack with a live orchestra. As for the quality of the music itself, it is quite good for the most part. Itís not the best music the Final Fantasy series has ever seen (Final Fantasy VI still holds that honor), but the tunes are still very well done.

Final Fantasy IX is a great last hooray for the series on the Playstation. While it doesnít bring anything new to the table, what it does it does well. If youíre looking for a new adventure, while at the same time taking a walk down memory lane, Final Fantasy IX is the ticket.

Reviewed by Mr. Nash