It's not everyday I review a game and it's not everyday I even play video games, but I can make an exception for this one. This does contain spoilers.
After the steampunk style settings of Final Fantasies 6, 7 and 8, series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi wanted to shift the setting to something more reminiscent of classic Final Fantasy games. He felt that longtime fans who had been playing 1,2,3,4 and 5 would feel alienated if they kept the realism of the last couple of games. Moreover, he didn't want the franchise to become stale and repetitive with the same setting over and over again. The decision was made to have Final Fantasy 9 be a callback to the first 5 games-a medieval setting with every playable character having their own unique role: a thief, a black mage, white mages, dragoons, blue mages and knights.
Sakaguchi wrote the scenario in 1998 and the game was directed by Hiroyuki Ito. The man who invented the Active Time Battle System and the director of Final Fantasy 6. He later went on to direct Final Fantasy 12 and was responsible for the battle systems of 4,5, 6, 8, 9, 12 and Tactics.
Notably, Final Fantasy 9 took a break from the realistic and anime inspired art style of Tetsuya Nomura and instead Yoshitaka Amano was chosen to design the characters.
In the year 2000 Sakaguchi described Final Fantasy 9 as his favourite Final Fantasy game, saying that it is the closest to what Final Fantasy should be. This statement shines throughout the game and is made extremely clear.
Released July 15th in the year 2000 for Japan and November 13th for the USA, Final Fantasy 9 is best described as a hidden gem.
Taking place in the world of Gaia with a mildly medieval setting-a thief named Zidane Tribal and his collective known as Tantalus are tasked with abducting the princess of the world's most powerful kingdom. However, this rescue mission expands into something much greater than just Zidane, as the plot thickens more and more people are caught up in the cataclysmic events. The events in this game don't solely impact Zidane negatively-they affect everyone. A simple abduction mission expands into a tale of friendship, sorrow and acceptance.
Final Fantasy 9 's themes are epitomised through the life of Black Mage Vivi. Vivi's life means nothing to those who created him and his story of self discovery is told throughout the entire game. The player learns more and more about Vivi as Vivi learns about himself. These realisations are accompanied by fantastic dialogue that makes you sympathise with him. Vivi is merely a victim of greed and war, a victim of the evil that Final Fantasy 9 shows us. As the game progresses Vivi accepts his fate and does his best to save the world from said evil.
Princess Garnet, or 'Dagger' is another incredible character. Although at first glance she is just an archetype she develops into a very strong willed person thanks to those around her. Similar to Vivi and Zidane-the story reveals more and more about her heritage and history as it progresses. Princess Dagger suffers just as much as the other characters do (with the exception of Vivi perhaps). Hence displaying how the events affect everyone from small mages such as Vivi to people with extreme authority such as herself.
Everyone in the main cast goes through some sort of crisis (with the exception of the optional character Quina Quin who serves as a comic relief) which changes the way they act and think. They make mistakes, they do stupid things, they laugh, they grieve and they learn. The way the cast react to some of the events that take place is so human and relatable. Garnet cries during the death of her mother, Zidane insults his friends after finding out his identity, Steiner is lead to question his motivations and the people he swore loyalty to. The cast are beaten down, brought back up and then beaten down again only to get back up.
How could I forget about Kuja? A psychotic weapon of mass destruction that wants to annihilate everything due to his fear of inevitable death. I loved his character and how he displays the identity crisis of Vivi and Zidane. Kuja's purpose was to destroy everything and exceed Garland's expectations, he wanted to stand apart from the other Genomes and be his own purpose. During his final battle he uses Ultima to take out the party, if he dies then everyone else must come with him. This could be a trait of a psychopath, but also the trait of someone with an extreme fear of death. When he realises that he's going to die at the end of disc 3, he does nothing other than take everyone with him. He just wants to keep living. He's not Ultimecia who seeks world domination, he's not Sephiroth who wants to become God, he's just a man who wants to live and avoid death. Kuja is perhaps the most human villain in FF.
The world of Final Fantasy IX is warm and friendly, but menacing at the same time. In 7, 8 and 10 I didn't do much back tracking or revisiting of cities but this world gripped me so much that I had to do it. NPCs don't just feel like filler to populate the towns and cities, but they behave like actual human beings! They talk about their families, their lives and they refer to story events that happened in their respective town or city. Some even walk around and have little conversations about pointless things. Gaia has life to it, you pity the NPCs who've lost family members during the events of the game and the world is just so immersive.
Exploration in this game is brilliant too. Many dungeons have you solving puzzles and wandering aimlessly to get treasure. It never felt like a chore to move from point A to point B, it was fun to explore. The use of exclamation points removes the need to keep clicking 'x' every time Zidane wanders off the visible screen. The game rewards exploration with plenty of treasure and items that you can use. A first time single play through isn't enough for you to grab every item this game has to offer, since certain equipment is only available at specific points throughout the game.
Rather than being Zidane centric and only allowing you to control him, the game makes use of Active Time Events and multiple playable characters. This is one of the highlights of the game, you can play through virtually everything that happens rather than hearing about it later on. The first section allows you to play as Vivi, when the party splits up during the beginning you can control Steiner, during the destruction of Alexandria you can control Princess Garnet. You can see events through the eyes of every main character which helps you understand their personalities. The scenes during active time events can be hilarious, heartwarming and heartbreaking, they bring out the best qualities of the dialogue.
Final Fantasy 9 makes use of the ATB system just like 7 and 8. However the ATB bars in this game take significantly longer to load than in 7. Whilst 7 was quite fast paced, 9 lets you take your time and plan out everything you do. Trances now replace limit breaks as your ultimate attacks and forms. The combat system grew on me as the game progressed. It's not phenomenal, but it's not an absolute trash heap either, it could have benefited from being more fast paced. It's great but not my favourite The only character who's Trances really have progression is Zidane, he learns new attacks as he levels up but for everyone else their trances become repetitive really quickly. Each character should have had a Trance levelling up system where every level grants them new abilities. Besides that, I do like the designs for each character in Trance mode. Abilities are earned through equipment rather than levels, so good old fashioned grinding for ability points is a must . Trying to revive fallen party members is an absolute nightmare since Phoenix Downs do nothing here. I will admit that some of the boss fights aren't the most thrilling or memorable either with the exception of the last few.
Do I even have to talk about the music? Uematsu even said it was his best work. It's firetrucking beautiful, that's all there is to it.
As for the ending, it was damn perfect, a perfect culmination of all the key themes and tied up all the loose ends (Maybe Freya and her BF could have done with some more time together)... I don't need to speak on how amazing it was, the ending speaks for itself.
Do I even need to talk about how amazing Zidane is either? He's easily my 2nd favourite FF hero behind Squall for obvious reasons.
All in all, this game is a firetrucking masterpiece. The combat could have been a bit better but it does everything else so perfectly, and the game is FUN. It's not a chore and I can see myself replaying it next year and in the years to come. If I bother to replay a game-then it must have done something right.
Edited by Barry Bacon Allen, 18 December 2016 - 08:53 AM.