I have always loved Final Fantasy as a series and IX will always be my favorite. I understand some people being against it but it brings back lots of memories for me and I enjoyed it going back to the way final fantasy was making references and going away from the moody protagonist. I loved the diversity of the characters and how one moment in particular changed the way a certain character worked. (Not going to say who or what because it’s a big spoiler.) I thought that was really cool that they added that little bit to it because it could be overlooked. I also just enjoy playing it as it’s a nice way for me to relax. The soundtrack is also beautiful including the opening song for the title screen being my favorite. A farewell and love letter to classic Final Fantasy, IX is Hironobu Sakaguchi’s favorite game in the series. It isn’t too hard to see why, the game may be the quintessential entry to the entire franchise. IX captures the heart and soul of the entire series. As a farewell to the classic games, it returns to an old school western European fantasy inspired setting, tries to focus its RPG mechanics into a streamlined and polished combination of VI and VII’s, matches the earlier games’ more upbeat tone, bases its character designs on the most classic depictions of every class, and weaves some pretty clever and personal subtext in the plot about the series’s future.
I will say that in most ways the Steam version is the best version of the game, thanks to Square Eenix’s enhanced party member models (which is fleshed out to almost all the game’s characters by Fragosso’s HD character mod), and the AI upscaled prerendered backgrounds and cutscenes by the Moguri mod. Both of these mods really polish up FFIX’s visuals while remaining extremely faithful to the original game’s art style. I’m a stickler for art style friendly mods. I recommend skipping Moguri’s SweetFX nonsense and the optional music mod, as the gorgeous soundtrack is certainly not needing of an update. You’ll want to grab the music loop bug fix as well. All of these can be found in the Steam Community forums for the game.
The RPG mechanics here are now much more straight forward. Characters earn exp to increase their base stats, meanwhile earning AP every battle that depending on what equipment a character is using, is contributed to adding passive or usable abilities to the party members. When a character has a piece of equipment on that trains an ability, that character has that ability at their disposal as long as they are still using that same equipment. After earning enough AP while it is equipped, the character can use this ability forever without using that gear. This simpler system has a lot of benefits, one it gives the game a greater sense of balance. There aren’t any dead weight party members, characters can’t learn too many OP abilities too early, equipment has now been merged with summons and ability progression into a single slimmer system, and resistances can be utilized without keeping every piece of equipment in the game. Synthesizing items to gain new equipment and weapons now makes the player have to weigh whether they want cash now or the potential for better gear later on.
The system isn’t perfect though. Limit Breaks have been severely nerfed in the form of the new Trance mechanic. It’s essentially the same thing, but now their meters fill turn by turn at a much slower rate. You simply have to grind the meters up if you want to utilize Trances for a specific purpose, or just rely on luck for when you happen to Trance. You can’t intentionally have a character sit a low health or take lots of damage to trigger a Trance. While it does reign in the supremely overpowered Limit Breaks of VII and VIII, it also for the most part eliminates a potential strategy a player could employ. You’ll often have Zidane gaining AP to spend on nothing, as he has learned everything all your equipment can teach, and you lose the potential to teach a fourth character new abilities. He’s useful, but most of the late game you’re forming your party around him in a way that I think can heavily restrict the player. You can only remove him from the party at the final boss.
The plot’s control over what characters are at your disposal may bother some. It’s prevalent for most of FFIX, but I prefer FF characters to be able to have a mind of their own and go different places from each other so it doesn’t bother me. Also the sidequests are pretty lackluster, the case in every FF besides VI.
On a surface level the story seems on the simpler side compared to the last 3 games, but I’d argue there’s more going on under the hood. There’s a neat subtext about accepting the passage of time, facing mortality and making existence meaningful that I think plays into a small meta-narrative about Final Fantasy’s at the time this game came out, uncertain future approaching the 6th console generation. I think Square Soft’s writers felt in a sense FFIX was a farewell, a resolution that the series would have to face big change, accepting the departure of classic Final Fantasy, and a reminder to themselves that classic Final Fantasy games will always be there in their memories, so stagnation is unnecessary; they have a legacy they can be proud of. Despite the tragedy that permeates across the game’s plot, IX is a game with a heart of gold that’s steadfast in its unshakable optimism. Which I think may speak of Square Soft’s hope for FF’s future.
IX features two of the series’s strongest characters, Vivi and Garnet. I feel like Vivi embodies everything Final Fantasy stands for with his lonely desire for a more adventurous meaningful existence, his relishing his journey with his friends, his refusal to wallow in despair, his fear of isolation, and his challenge facing that time will march on with or without him, so he has to take action. After playing IX, Vivi will probably be the first character that comes to mind when I think “Final Fantasy.” Some might have thought it strange for me to say Garnet is one of the series best characters, because she isn’t very complex, but I say that because she is easily the series’s most dynamic character. She goes through so many changes over the course of the game, she’s almost unrecognizable to when you first encounter her. She faces tragedy after tragedy and pushes on. She’s distinct due to her serious personality that contrasts with Zidane. Unlike previous FF heroines, she isn’t upbeat, flirtatious, rambunctious, introverted or aloof. She’s a dead serious foil to Zidane, she’s naive, self critical, hot tempered, but never cold. She also has without a doubt, the biggest, cutest butt in the series.
Zidane is a perfect endlessly upbeat protagonist for IX. He stands out due to his very vocal affection for Garnet, which you definitely wouldn’t get from Cloud or Squall. He doesn’t change much throughout the story, but is rather on a quest to validate himself instead, much like the antagonist Kuja. His lack of a complex motivation defines his character, he’s a one track minded guy, a ladies man, adventurer, and is dragged into the game’s events due to his inescapable fascination with Garnet. His quest is one of self validation much like Cloud without the nerdy desire for heroism and hero worship meant to bridge Cloud and the player.
While Steiner, Eiko, and Quina are fine and dandy, Beatrix and Freya had greater potential that goes underutilized. Freya’s masochistic quest to reconnect herself with a lost lover, and her witness of wholesale slaughter are amazing background for her, and her search results in an even greater challenge for her. But it gets a little buried in a game that is just chock full of story. It sort of gets tied in a nice little bow at the end in a way I think is wasted potential. The same can be said for Beatrix, who manages to cope with what should be unimaginable guilt with some soul searching off screen. Both very interesting well make characters who could have really been among the best in the series. Amarant is for certain the weak link. Resident edgelord who much like Vincent, fails to live up to Shadow’s legacy. His decisions make him look kind of stupid needlessly, and he doesn’t do much to make the player warm up to him later on.
Overall, IX has some of the most polished gameplay the series has had up to this point, and a story that by the end credits will have you sentimentally longing for more to the classic 00s tearjerker game credits music I now listen to when I’m bored. This one has become a Top 10er for me, so I highly recommend playing this one if you’re going through the FF series, or just love RPGs. It’s hard to contain my excitement for X.