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Final Fantasy IX (PlayStation) artwork

Final Fantasy IX (PlayStation) review

"Final Fantasy IX "

Final Fantasy IX

Introduction- All the things that tend to go wrong
Rpgs are more delicate than people may think. There is so much stuff that can go wrong, from the story, to the battle system, to the characters, to the plot progression, and to countless other factors. It takes a true master of this art form to craft an rpg that is good, beyond good, or even of greatness.
Keep in mind that people also view rpgs differently. Some people may like an rpg’s characters, others may not. Some might not be able to stand a rpg’s story, where some might replay the game 7 times just to see the story unfold again.
This is where we see people who are ostracized in fan groups and the what-not; most people may hate a certain battle system, but there still are those who think it’s one of the best ever put together.
Final Fantasy IX easily fits the bill of one of these games, for I know many who love it but also the few who don’t. For some reason, I’m a member of the few who don’t like FFIX all too much, and hopefully I’ll be able to explain some of the reasons why.

FFVII and FFVIII set the bars for videogame graphics, and in some respects FFIX raises them even more. On a technical level FFIX is at the absolute highest. The prerendering is crisp, highly detailed, and often very colorful. The FMV work is also incredibly crisp, clear, high definition and surprisingly vivid. The real time runs generally fast, and is comprised of many polygons and the whatnot.

The real test for any game like this, in my eyes, is the heart involved. Of course, I don’t judge a game’s graphical strength on FMV work and Prerendering. This is stuff that is done outside of a game’s engine, if I’m not correct, and it isn’t really part of the “game.”

What is part of the game is the FMV directing, the prerendering artwork, and boths’ design. FFVIII had awesome FMV on a tecnical level, and on the level of heart and inspiration the FMV was spectacular. FFIX doesn’t share the same fate.

The prerendering artwork is very good, matter of fact. But my problem is that after a while, it seems to run dry. The colors and the graphical flair take a nose-dive after a while, and I don’t think that it has anything to do with the game’s plot progressing. Did the designers get bored?

The FMV is beautiful, but I didn’t find much heart in it. The direction seems to be off, which is my primary concern. It showed me how incredibly talented Square is with this kind of stuff, because I took for granted how intricately created the FMV of FFVIII really was. In FFIX, the FMV wasn’t as glorious as it could have been. It’s still good, but it’s missing that last level of polish that was apparent with FFVIII (with Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy VII for good measure).

The real time is another important aspect of FFIX’s graphics, because battle take place in real time (along with the overworld and character exploration).
In many ways, the battles look phenomenal. Each character attacks in a different way; the small Eiko looks like she struggles a bit whenever she attacks, and the graceful Freya leaps to deliver a blow with her lance. The characters also look believable good when casting magic, summoning, and the such. A lot of detail was brought forth for the battles, that’s for sure. Enemies also look generally top-notch. These aren’t the greatest looking enemies that I’ve seen, but I’ve seen a lot worse.
Sadly, framerate, slowdown and low polygon counts become a problem with FFIX’s battles. You see, the game is trying to handle 4 characters at a time, so a lot of flair seen in other rpgs with just three is sadly missing. I can’t put a finger on it, but I think that with FFVII and FFVIII there were a lot more atmospheric elements involved with the battle presentations. It’s sadly missing in #9, and worst of all, the Summoning animations take a nose-dive from FFVIII. They look okay, a select few look stunning, but overall they are only decent.

On the downside, everything else with the real-time seemed shoddy to me. FFIX’s overworld didn’t come close to making the same sense of wonder as it did for me in FFVI through FFVIII. It looks like they were either trying to make the fog effects look really good and they forgot about the landscape or they did the overworld last - something seems fishy about it, and I don’t like it all. The emotional impact of the areas that you have to visit seems nearly non-existent. It just didn’t work for me.

The usual “exploring” of FFIX’s castles, towns, dungeons etc. with Zidane or if not him then the current main character seemed poorly done as well. While I didn’t mind it with Vivi, I did with everyone else. I attribute it to the character model design. It’s truly a delicate thing, character design, especially now that they’re in 3D. They can easily look out of place or ackward, sometimes just by their clothing. It may seem picky, but think about how many people disliked FFIX just because of the character models - it does have an impact. While the majority thinks that they look too deformed, I just think that they are out of place. Maybe it can be attributed to the story, maybe it can’t; I just thought that it wasn’t very good in FFIX, except for a few notable characters.

Battle System
The battles of FFIX are the meat and bones of the gameplay. Preparing for battles, battling, and the activities following a battle (healing, re-equipping etc.) take up most of the gameplay in FFIX. Does it stack up to other rpgs?

Generally, it does. Although many aspects are reused from previous installments of the series, things work well. The battles aren’t as long-winded as FFVIII’s battles, and looking ahead I liked how the battles played out much better than FFX. Battles are generally fun, suspenseful, as well as very challenging. It’s not easy to excel, for enemies and bosses remain powerful and hard throughout the course of the game.

The aspect where FFIX battle system falls flat on its face, seizures a little, and then bursts into a milky liquid is in the system itself. I found it to be very cumbersome, unapproachable, and very limiting.

My largest gripe involves what the characters can do. Although there are a lot of abilities for the characters to learn, a large portion are VERY hard to find or even know about without the help of a guide.
I found it very hard for my characters to cause damage. What I’m talking about is that you’ll get a feeling that all that the characters can do is “attack.” Battles happen way to often for the only way to incur damage being the attack option. For example, unless you can find an weapon called “The Tower” with the ability “Thievery” the only way Zidane can cause damage is by mugging or attacking. That’s it. He’s the main character, whom you’ll be controlling most of the game; it gets really repetitive, really quickly.

The two white magic/summon users also have trouble inflicting damage. You can summon, use a wimpy attack, and use Holy if you have Eiko; you can’t summon that often because of the MP loss, so these two characters generally don’t do much in battles beside heal. That would be okay, except the game forces you to have them in battle with you for a large part of the game. Your other teammates who can inflict a good amount of damage go missing for nearly a full disc. This is cool story-wise, but it makes the random battles incredibly unbearable.

Having characters with set abilities sounds so much cooler than the battle systems of FFVII and FFVIII where no characters has any primary difference compared to another character. Sadly, not enough leeway went into the separation of characters in FFIX. I’ll list the classes for you, based on previous Final Fantasy lore:
Zidane class is the theif.
Vivi is a Black Mage.
Amarant can be referred to as a Monk, based on similar Monk characters from previous FFs.
Dagger, or Garnet, is a White Mage summoner.
Freya is a Dragoon Knight or “Lancer“.
Steiner is a Knight.
Eiko is also a White Mage summoner.
Quina is a Blue Mage.

The many different classes provide a good variety. But sadly, they aren’t always available to you, as mentioned before. I would’ve killed to have the powerful attacker Amarant with the team throughout the whole game, but he shows up almost halfway through the game. There is team strategy in FFIX, but you’ll have to wait a while to be able to do it.

Also, I think that the separations were too stringent. You only have one character that can use black magic, which is a fact I didn’t like very much. Most importantly (as mentioned before), the characters are limited in the ability to inflict damage, except for 3 of the characters who have lots of different ways to inflicting damage. I think that if some characters, such as Zidane, could have had the ability to learn certain abilities such as maybe a black magic spell or a Knight skill, things would be much better. FFVI gave you the chance to teach any character magic, so the characters in that game had separate ability classes on top of the use of magic. FFIX doesn’t let you do enough with your characters, and it makes the game progression often dry and painful.

World Design
FFIX has an overworld, lots of towns and castles, along with shrines, caves, dungeons and the such. Unfortunately, none of it seems really “organized” or connected. The worlds of FFVIII and FFVII seemed much more elaborately detailed and likable, where I went from random area to random area in FFIX via a bad looking overworld.

Some places such as castles and towns are very well designed, matter of fact. They are on the verge on being too big at times, but they give you lots of people to talk to and lots of stuff to buy and tinker with. If you want to participate in the interesting card game, there are a ton of willing competitors.

Dungeons are well thought out as well, some with interesting puzzles and deep labyrinths. Still, I didn’t feel much motivation to go to these places, never mind fighting many random battles along the way, but it’s a problem with the story really.

Like all FF’s since FFIV (and maybe before), there is a lot of extra stuff to find. It increases your party’s power and it adds precious replay value, although some of it is very hard to get a hold of. It takes many hours for some of the side quests, but that way you earn valuable abilities that make your damage-inflicting list much longer.

Characters, Script and Story
If you want to know my choice for most frustrating rpg story and characters, FFIX would be the winner. If you’d want me to tell you how it is in one expression, I’d say “It’s bad.” It’s bad for many a reason, which I hope will all be covered in these upcoming paragraphs.

First, I’d like to list each character and their characteristics, impact on the story, and how well they were brought forth.

(guilty of bad writing and being a flat out BAD main character) Zidane: He’s the main character of the game, who just happens to be a thief like the (secondary) main character Locke from FFVI. But he’ll never, ever, be as cool as Locke (unless he decides to become a Blue Mage and casts “Death Sentence” on himself).
Problems: Almost no background until 2/3 into the game, but that whole part was way too confusing and unfinished to make any sense out of it. He really doesn’t do much story and even battle-wise. He’s part of a bandit group, but you don’t know why he joined, how he joined, why he stayed with them for any period of time, and just about anything else about him. He always “wants to help people”, but all he’ll ever help with for any living person is with gagging from too much optimism exposure. Where’s all the “not squeaky clean” main characters! Oh, FFVIII.... (*runs out and buys another copy*)
Good Qualities: He can steal valuable items from enemies and bosses.

Vivi: He’s a lovable, adorable, deadly black mage with probably the best character model for any rpg ever and a very lovable persona.
Problems: His quest to find out who/what he is was interesting, but for some reason it goes totally unresolved through the game to the ending. Pissed me off, I tell ya.
Good Qualities: He’s such an amazing character. Anyone who doesn’t fall in love with the little fella’s design and persona need to go play some more Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver or any other dark and gory game featuring a walking and talking corpse (no offense to those great games). Vivi’s dialogue is full of so many funny lines and idiosyncrasies and great moments, and he finds himself in many funny embarrassing situations (such as marrying Quina, having a faulty ticket).

(guilty of being just bad) Princess Garnet, or Dagger: There is very, very little motivation to like this character. The only good thing about her is that she has deep impacting facial expressions in FMV, but that’s about it.
Problems: Dialogue is terrible, with very little emotional depth behind it. She isn’t a funny character, although the game tries, and she isn’t a powerful one either. I just didn’t like Garnet.
Good Qualities: She can summon Bahamaunt. But then yet Eiko can summon Madeen, which is actually cooler....

(also guilty of being just bad, but not as bad) Eiko: She’s kind of like Rydia from FFIV being one of the last summoners left on the planet and being a kid, but you wish you could kill her off too. At least she’s a much better White Magic user than Garnet, with her own specific spells.
Problems: Dialogue is troublesome, her plotline is confusing and contains many gaps, and nothing really gets fully explained or resolved. And her character model is terrible, good god Square! You’re all crazy I tell ya!
Good Qualities: Is a surprisingly more powerful character than Garnet (but still lacks enough punch in battles).

Freya: I kind of run at a draw with Freya. She is a Dragoon Knight which is always classy, and she is a very powerful one as well. Sadly, her story material was kind of so-so and she had her fair share of dialogue and plot hole problems as well.
Problems: Mediocre at best story, she didn’t get much of chance for a plot line as well.
Good Qualities: Awesome battle abilities!

Steiner: He is the “knight in emotional peril.” He really isn’t a bad character, and he’s very useful in battle with Knight abilities such as “Armor Break” and “Mind Break.” Can also team up with Vivi for “Swd Magic” that will make anyone shiver in delight.
Problems: He is very stereotypical, but it’s not as bad as you’d think. His internal struggle never is resolved.....
Good Qualities: He’s loyal, like a dog.

Quina: It’s the comedic humor, along with Zidane (for easily falling for chicks), Garnet (for trying to be common), Eiko (because she needs love), Vivi (for being a 6 year old Wizard that happens to have spells that cause stuff like “instant death“ and “petrification“), Amarant (for being “moody”) and Steiner (for being an oaf). I hope you realize that that right there is 7/8 of the cast. Ah, don’t worry - just teasing a little.
Quina’s funny spot is that she eats a lot. And is always obsessed by food and anything that has to do with it (such as its obsession with leftovers). If you decide to participate in a certain Active Time Event, then Quina is Vivi’s wife.
Problems: Nothing.
Good Qualities: Incredibly wacky, funny character that has the best dialogue in the game, besides Vivi that is.

(Guilty of having absolutely no purpose in story at all) Amarant: He’s a “moody”, ambiguous character that has very little impact on the story and very dialogue in the game. Zidane pulled a nasty trick on him in his past, and now he’s a troubled person that only Zidane can give purpose to. So, since Zidane’s a bad character and most of Amarant’s scenes involve Zidane, he gets a bad rap as well.
Problems: Poor dialogue, terrible back-story, his character model is horrendous, he doesn’t belong at all in the story, and one of his few scenes in the game involves him storming off and getting trapped while Zidane here goes solo with his awesome “attack” and “steal” skills to save him. Probably the worst point in the game, to tell you the truth!
Good Qualities: Monks are cool.....

(Guilty of making me say.... “Huh?” more than 17 times) Kuja:
At first, he/she was the “secretive, moody REAL bad guy.” Then, someone else was. And then..... ...........gets 3 hours into the 4th disc ................... What the hell was THAT! I’m confused.....
Problems: He/she doesn’t really appear enough or do enough to be a good bad guy. FFVII bad guy Sephiroth showed up and made some rustle every once and while, whenever Kuja actually showed up it was followed by a confusing FMV that really didn’t do much for character development as a whole.
Good Qualities: Makes you appreciate other Final Fantasy bad guys even more! Kuja has the always-cool-looking spell Ultima - and it shows up in FMV. Seizure-rific!

The primary factor for these weak lead characters? Dialogue. I’m almost certain that it’s the problem. There is very little depth behind it, it’s very badly written, certain themes seem to skip all over the place, there isn’t a lot of logic to anything.... It’s truly a mess, a poorly written mess I should say.

I get the feeling that everyone looks past the badly scripted characters and they see the wonderfully scripted ones such as the warm-blooded Vivi and the refreshingly funny Quina when they think about FFIX. But these two characters are 2 out of 8, and they aren’t both given a whole lot of screen time in this considerably long game.

I could not see past the flaws and the forgettable dialogue; I just couldn’t. It really bogged down the game for me.

Intertwined into any rpg’s dialogue is the story, and if one of them is bad the other is sure to follow. In FFIX, both of them were bad to begin with. With little motivation and depth in the game’s dialogue, there isn’t much to go on with the story; and with a story this confusing and at times uneventful, the whole package is grim.

My biggest problems with the story had to do with the role of Zidane and Kuja. Not enough was explained about these two throughout the course of the story. Zidane truly is “just there” for most of the story, and whenever Kuja does show up it’s apparently to show off his strange looking character model. Kuja’s demise and everything about him is an anti-climax, and same goes with the rest of the cast.

The first disc’s story was phenomenal and led on to an amazing climatic Mage vs. Mage showdown, and it had its share of interesting characters and enemies. But through the shortly lived second disc and the ambiguous, boring, and contrived third disc everything falls apart. The only two characters I was rooting for were Vivi and Quina - although they don’t make many appearances in a bulk of the game. After some gorgeous FMV in the end of the 3rd disc the game pick itself up again and it (thankfully) even lets you take the almost-useless Zidane out of the party. As hard as it is for me to admit it, by that point in the game Zidane is your strongest character (unless you used the convenient Lv. Up Boost ability on other characters). You had him in battle for just about the whole game, so he’s the highest level and one of the only ones to stand a chance against that nasty final boss. Speaking of the final boss - why couldn’t there have been some foreshadowing in the story to the identity of the ambiguous final boss? It’s very cool, but it truly appears out of thin air in regards to the story.

Music and Sound Effects
As with just about every Final Fantasy project, the music in FFIX is truly remarkable. It’s a “magical” soundtrack with a large list of highly memorable tunes and many remixed versions of classic Final Fantasy tunes from the SNES days. It’s the biggest use of paying tribute to the Final Fantasies of old, as mentioned, with many remixed or redone songs.

Besides being awesome to listen to, Final Fantasy music does an incredible amount of work towards helping the story come to life. Even though I disliked FFIX’s story, I can still remember all of the memorable tunes that helped tell it. I have a bad gut feeling that a lot of the old-school Final Fantasy fans that liked FFIX liked it primarily because of the music - without knowing it. It makes the game play and go so much better (except in the 3rd disc when some songs are reused WAY too much). But I can’t be fooled any longer - in my second play through of the first disc (in preparation for this review, mind you) the music didn’t cut it for me - the dialogue was too painful and the story too ambiguous in all the wrong aspects.

The sound effects are stunning. The summoning animations, though they don’t look as good as they have in the previous 2 FF’s, sound better than ever. With amazing battle cries and sound effects to go with the massive destruction, they just happen to be as good as always.

Other effects are excellent. Slashing an enemy or impaling an enemy never sounded so good!

Final Fantasy IX may fit the bill aurally, but its story and characters leave an incredibly sour after-taste. I don’t see much, besides Vivi, some truly funny game moments and some really awesome songs and graphics, to make FFIX a “great” game. Some of the design issues really should have been looked at twice - you are too limited in FFIX, never mind forced into being despondent from all of the poor script.

If you are a Square fan, Playstation, or Playstation 2 owner, I do recommend FFIX for its substance and long game length. I like FFIX better than FFX for various reasons, and I would buy FFIX in an instant over FFX. FFIX is really not “terrible,” it may be bad in some cases, but if you are looking for a really good looking game, a somewhat challenging rpg, or a really good sounding game then FFIX can fit the bill.

+ The ultra-lovable Vivi
+ Great music
+ Great graphics, overall
+ Battles are very interesting and even “fun”
+ Characters with pre-set abilities gives the game a more character orientated feel

+ Bad characters such as Zidane and Garnet/Dagger
+ Dialogue didn’t seem all that great to me
+ Story wasn’t that good either
+ Battle System limits you too much
+ The overworld isn’t very engaging
+ The random battle count isn’t all that high, but the dungeons are big enough to pose a “too many random battle” problems

Graphics: 8.75/10
Battle System: 5/10
World Design: 8/10
Characters: Vivi and Quina: 9.75
Everyone else, as an average: 3/10
Story and Dialogue: 4.5/10
Music and Sound: 8.75

Rxfang6 Game Grade: C-

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Community review by rxfang6 (August 26, 2002)

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