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SummaryPutting The Fantasy Back Into Final Fantasy
The GoodI have never been a huge Final Fantasy fan. Those who know me are well aware of this. That is not to say however, that I dislike all Final Fantasies. To me the Final Fantasy series is kind of like Halo. As serious FPS fans pay little attention to Halo, it seems to me that most serious RPG fans play little attention to Final Fantasy, as I do, and I am a hardcore RPGer, and FPSer, for that matter.(I prefer the term “Fragger”.-MM-)
However I did enjoy Final Fantasy IX on the PSX. Released in 2000, FFIX harkens back to the good old days of RPGS. And brings back the whole “fantasy” thing. Square’s goal with this one seemed to be to mix the best of the old and the best of the new. In many ways they succeeded, but in other ways the failed. I plan to discuss this duality in full in my review.
Old Skool is the best school….
The plot in FFIX revolves around Zidane, and Tantalus. A trope of actors, that are more like a band of thieves.(Not the cool ones like Garrett, of Thief fame however.-MM) It would seem that Tantalus has a scheme to kidnap the lovely Princess Garnett, from the city of Alexandria. Alas the wayward Princess has plans of her own, that are about to make hell for Zidane and company. Further complicating matters is Captain Adelbert Steiner.(No relation to the badass Rudolf Steiner, of Phantasy Star II.-MM) He will protect the Princess at all costs.
We are also introduced to Vivi, a black mage, and a nod to earlier Final Fantasies. His innocence and Phil Dickian question of his humanity is central to the plot of FFIX.(That’s Philip K. Dick, look it up.-MM-)
So it is safe to say that one of Final Fantasy IX’s strengths is a good cast of characters. Note that I said good and not great. I also thought that Freya was a cool character, albeit a bit underused. Each character has there own back story some better than others. Not only that but in the Gameplay, each character, is useful in various ways, unlike in the previous PSX, Final Fantasies.
Allow me to further explain, the Gameplay. Like the majority of eastern RPGS, FFIX, has random battles with monsters. And of course there is the obligatory, NPCS, world maps, dungeons etc. We all know the RPG drill by now.
What I want to focus on here is what makes FFIX unique. Firstly there are ATE’s. Which stands for Active Time Events. They are NOT as cool as they sound. Basically when exploring a new town, or city the party splits up. During which you get to see what other party members are up to. I felt that these were a mixed bag. At best they offer more back- round info on the people and places. At worst they can be annoying and feel like a waste of time. As in some areas they keep popping up.
Better done is how the party members are used in battle. Unlike in FFVII, in which your entire party is interchangeable. In FFIX all of the party is useful is some way. For example only Vivi can cast black magic, Zidane is the only one that can steal, and only Freya can use the “jump” command. So when forming a party the player has more to choose from that the way a character looks. (Interchangeable party members is one of the things I hate the most in newer RPGS.-MM)
Furthermore, Vivi and Steiner can use magic sword combo attacks. Which is cool. I just wish that there were more things like this in FFIX.
A word or two about abilities….
Now I would like to talk about the abilities system of FFIX. While it is not original per se. As FFVI, Grandia, and Lost Odyssey, to name a few, use a similar system. Say you want to learn a new spell for Vivi, or a stat boost for Zidane. Well first you must equip the proper weapon, boots, what have you. Then as you win battles you gain AP. Or Ability Points. These are key to learning new spells and or skills.
This system succeeds to a point, as it makes combat feel more rewarding. However it can be a double edged sword, as it also means that you pretty much CANNOT SELL any old items, as a particular party member may need it later. So unlike in say Grandia, you end up carrying all this junk around with you, and do not have as much money to buy new items. Which can be quite frustrating.
There are many abilities in FFIX. And they can be broken down into two types. There are “action” and “support” abilities. Black magic would be an example of an “action” ability. While counter would be an example of a “support” ability. Making the system even more complex is the combining of support abilities. For example Auto-potion+ Chemist= more defensive battles that keep up your party’s HP. On the down side this can make the game a bit too easy.
Low choleric eye candy….
The graphics is FFIX are quite good for the PSX. While it offers little that has not been done before, they still get the job done. I particularly liked the character design. And yes it is true that Square brought back famed artist, Yoshitaka Amano, also known for his award winning work on Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”, graphic novels. But they had others redo his work. So it looks less like his style. Which makes no sense to me, as Mr. Amano’s art was one of the few things that made pre FFVII, Final Fantasies stand out.
And yes the CGI looks good, if a little over the top. So in closing FFIX, is the best looking PSX, Final Fantasy.
Magical Sound Shower
The music is FFIX is pretty good. I have never seen what is so great about Mr. Uematsu’s style as such. I feel he is a bit overrated. Especially seeing as many other RPG composers are more talented yet there praises go unsung. However I did enjoy most of the score from FFIX. And many of the tracks still stand out in my mind, which is rare for me.
The sound effects are also up to par. Nothing new, but the get the job done.
The BadThe Bad and The Ugly
There are tons of things to see and do in FFIX. This is partly a good thing, but not entirely. Many of the side quests are way too long and tedious. When collecting the best gear for your party at the end of the game. Instead of like in most old skool RPGS, in which you find the best stuff in the difficult end dungeons, you must play mini-games.
“Kweeh!?!”-Chocobo speak for WTF!?!-
Namely a game called, “Chocobo: Hot and Cold”, in which you train a dubious yellow ostrich type thing, aka, a Chocobo. To train it you must dig up treasures. Which range from potions, to rare world map treasure clues. Digging increases his “beak” level. (I can’t make this stuff up.-MM-) Once you find a world map treasure clue, you must, get this, travel to the world map, and try to find the aforementioned treasure. Making this little game even more tedious and a teensy bit contrived, are the different Chocobo types.
Eventually you will find a special box. Pandora’s box? Unfortunately not. Once you open it you and your Chocobo have some sort of acid flash back, in which the Chocobo evolves. Evolution entails him changing color and being able to cross oceans, and eventually fly. You must evolve him at least 4or 5 times to claim the best treasures. Is it worth it? Well yes and no. Playing this very long mini-game, takes about an additional 10-15 hours of Gameplay. Yet it allows you access to the best weapons and items for your party, and thus some of the best abilities. But I cannot help but wonder, could they have done it more like the evolution system of your dragon, Panzer Dragoon Saga? (But I am getting ahead of myself as that review is for another time.-MM)
I also very strongly disliked the story/characters after a certain point. What starts off strong quickly becomes weak and contrived. Most of the heroes were cool, with a few exceptions. Like Quina Quinn, a Pac-man type creature that likes to eat frogs. There is also Amarant, and assassin of sorts, that looks sort of like a giant Chicken-man. I saved the worst for last friends. Lastly there is Eiko. She is an annoying bastard child that is about 7 or 8 years old, and she has a childish crush on Zidane, whom is about 12 years her senior. Her only real use is summoning, and dying often in boss fights.
This weakness in plot is exacerbated by idiotically weak villains. There is Kuja, whom is some sort of wanna be Kefka, or The Joker. Then there is his boss Garland. Now if you thought Garland was lame the first time, wait till you see this one. His evil scheme really makes no sense. His penultimate goal is vague, at best, as are his motivations. I like RPGS to have strong villains with lot’s of presence. Like Laschic, in Phantasy Star, or Darth Ninhilus, from KOTOR II. FFIX lacks this.
Often I felt what was the point? Am I only doing this quest because the bad man told me so? “The Desert Palace” was one of these parts that felt pointless. They make it seem as if the party is in peril, yet is hardly convincing.
Finally, one of the huge areas in which FFIX fails in the plot department, is it’s over reliance on plot points and devices from previous Final Fantasy games. Some are well done. But most do NOT fit the game. For example there is a FFVII, reference, that feels out of place, seeing as FFVII never happened according to FFIX.
Many people complain about Phantasy Star IV’s over reliance on devices from the previous games in that franchise. But at least those fit as PSIV, was the final chapter in that series, and takes place in the same timeline, therefore it fits into the overall story arc.
FFIX, does not have that advantage. As every Final Fantasy game is a standalone game. Set in a different place and time. Now if this were the “final“, Final Fantasy then I could see the point of it’s reliance on previous games. Thus the standalone nature of the series is both it’s best and worst advantage. As I just laid bare using my flawless logic.
Final Fantasy IX, is a very lengthy adventure, easily taking 70-80 hours perhaps more. Which kills any and all replay value it may have had.
What is with the lack of voice acting? It just seems lazy to me. And proves my point that Square is rarely on the ball when it comes to this sort of thing.