Final Fantasy IX (PC) review
"A familiar tale of romanticism and the destructive cycle of war. And then thereís Vivi."
Thereís a monkey in 18th century finery whoís going to try and steal your heart, but not before Vivi clambers into it. Romance is the language of Final Fantasy IX, and a happy-go-lucky attitude its vehicle. IX is Shakespearean in more than its presentation; after the consequences of war, genocide and the subjugation of races are the stage for presentations of human truths and nature.
Vivi is a black mage of dubious origins and childish charm; heís clumsy, good natured, considerate and one of the strongest warriors in the game. He wields the destructive power of the universe; better than nearly everyone else he encounters. This is good news for you, but itís also vital that you donít figure that out right away.
Remember the monkey? Thatís Zidane, a girl obsessed thief whoís practical beyond reproach and noble of heart. He is also highly loyal and protective; a paladin, if you will. Heís also mischievous and lost, knowing very little about his past. Even if you donít like him at first, chances are you will eventually anyway.
Princess Garnet has not one problem, but many; she is at odds with her mother, the Queen. Steiner, a foolhardy but well intentioned knight, is guided by duty and total selflessness. Their struggle with fealty will transform them as they witness nearly incomprehensible destruction commanded by the order they serve.
Joined by a bevvy of unique, memorable characters like Freya, Quina and Amarant, you see each character in their comfort zone just before they are thrust out into the cruel world to discover who they will become. Why is the Queen of Alexandria on a war path? Can they protect themselves? Who do they care for? You donít get to decide, but like a good play, youíll understand quite well when you see the choices they make.
Final Fantasy IX takes very few chances and has been rewarded both critically and culturally for its adherence to Japanese RPG conventions. Exploration is separated from battle and character configuration screens; patterns established by the first in the series put players in their own comfort zone. Then youíre introduced to new concepts and asked what you will become.
As the player your job is to ensure they make it to their next destination prepared for the next conflict. To do so, you must acquire and buy gear and weapons; equip and configure protective abilities; level and defeat the foes that outnumber you numberless-to-one.
Fortunately, pacing is one of Final Fantasy IX strengths. Modern RPGs do a good job of balancing narrative and level grinding, but IX takes it a step further by giving your characters passive skills they learn from equippable gear and accessories. Youíll have your hands full arranging those while you seek out the very best of them.
There are, naturally, teasers in the form of mini games to assist your acquisition of these time saving relics. Each ability is learned at a fixed rate, but another piece of gear can teach the same ability as much as ten times faster. Chocobo hot and cold, a digging treasure hunt, provides essential reprieve from level grinding as well.
Thereís also a card collecting battle game called Tetra Master; you can find cards throughout the game and find opponents nearly everywhere. While there isnít a tangible reward for mastering the Tetra, it can prove amusing ... though I tend to skip it. The rules arenít well explained and without a reward, why bother?
All of the programming and optimization tricks Squaresoft learned has made IX one of the best looking and performing games on the PlayStation One. Enemies are detailed and fluidity animated; towns are lively and lush with activity; polygons are used to their best effect in spite of the PSXís notably low budget.
While character models, combat and the overworld are presented in polygonal fashion, towns and buildings are two dimensional scenes with subtle animation trickery to augment the overall feel. Itís always easy to get around and help is close at hand in optional indicators if you lose track of your character behind scenery.
Audio is also some of the finest in any RPG; Nobou Uematsuís last single credit soundtrack - for the PSX - graces the ear with as much personality and mastery of craft as its visual design. Nobouís themes sound like highly refined versions of retro-inspired music and have gone on to inspire countless covers, real performances and tributes the world over. Highly acclaimed would be putting it mildly; Nobou set the bar once again.
IXís delayed arrival, interposed by the lackluster substitute XIII has its flaws, but the developers have actively addressed its most grievious. Controller support is native to XInput devices, which means Xbox 360 or One controllers. Full analog functionality is not implemented but you might not even notice this minor issue. Controller inputs match what is being used, an important detail overlooked at launch.
Why this isnít an ďHDĒ or ďRemasteredĒ version is due to missing assets, specifically those static backgrounds I mentioned earlier in this review. It turns out Square Honalulu had archived files for the full motion video cut scenes, but not for anything else. Even character textures are either scaled up and smoothed, or repainted for presentation in high resolution.
Keyboard support is fully enabled, and keys can be easily reassigned in the options menu. Among those options youíll find a new feature: The option to turn on maximum gil (in game currency), maximum levels and Ability Points, or skip combat entirely. Some of these canít be reversed once enabled, so be sure to back up your save in one of the 150 total save slots at your disposal. Itís only silly until you make a mistake and didnít use those slots. Which by the way, begs mention of the new auto-save feature; you can continue right from the main screen and worry less about how little time you have to play.
Ah yes, the frame rate cap: Combat is locked to 15fps and everything else just 30fps. Apparently this was done because game logic was tied into the framerate - remember those optimizations I was talking about? SquareEnix doesnít want to rewrite the game engine, which is wholly understandable. The end result is playable on even modestly accelerated graphics, so itís a worthwhile trade off. This isnít one of those absurd games that rates you on performance, after all.
Daring isnít always the answer, and while some character tropes are employed, the writers - yes, writers - have woven a story of timeless artistry here. Education is in experience, it is said, and that is how the characters - and the player - learn what they need to know about the cast, the game and its mechanics.
The developers have accomplished the daunting task of pleasing both the newbie and the veteran; the first chapter moves along with enough cues that any inexperienced player can get comfortable with its systems. Grizzled vets, meanwhile, wonít be bored out of their minds grinding through unskippable tutorial sections that explain everything to death. They let other RPGs make that mistake.
In the first chapter the space you explore is small, but by the beginning of the third main plot arc (disc/chapter) the world is nearly yours to explore unbarred. Your responsibilities have also increased, and your understanding. Youíll be making all the decisions; where to go, what to do next and how to prepare for the next fight. Just as you should be.
Final Fantasy IX is a solid port that works with the XInput controller you probably already have, and supports keyboard/mouse functionality if you donít. Everything is beautiful except for the backgrounds that arenít up to current standards. The soundtrack is worth a standalone purchase, which makes one wonder why SquareEnix doesnít sell it on Steam as a DLC pack.
That bedraggled frame rate is its own worst enemy, but frame timing can have a far worse effect on the smoothness of the experience. You may notice inconsistent jittering and stuttering on certain graphics systems, especially lower end hardware that struggles harder to keep up. Partial analog support means you get no more than eight discreet directions of movement; essentially a remapped directional pad.
Consider that this is one of the top rated RPGs in the history of the PSX, and an easy contender for one of the best RPGs ever made. Is it worth full price? For what is going to be at least 120 hours of gameplay, yes! If you missed out on one of the most heartfelt RPGs in the industry, now is an excellent time to discover why Vivi is so beloved. Enjoy.
Community review by hastypixels (February 13, 2017)
At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.
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