On the last Retro Reflection, I said that Chrono Trigger was my favorite game of all time. That is still true, but the close second is definitely Final Fantasy IX.
Considering how glowing my review was of Chrono Trigger, it should be no surprise to anyone that I certainly have an affinity for turn-based RPGs. While Final Fantasy VII is hailed as the crown jewel of the series, I truly believe that IX is the best Final Fantasy. The game is the perfect send off to the “traditional” Final Fantasy games before X was released, and changed how the series progressed from that point forward.
So let’s talk about the good, the bad, and how well the game holds up today.
To start with the positives, this game is truly a love letter to the Final Fantasy series as a whole up to this point. There’s a massive list of lovable characters: the plucky Zidane (my first video game crush), Dagger (the stalwart and occasionally goofy knight of Alexandria: Steiner, the young summoner Eiko), Freya (the proud dragoon), Quina (the gender-fluid gourmand), Amarant (the brooding edge lord), and last but certainly not least, Vivi (the lovable, iconic, black mage).
A lot of RPGs (especially Final Fantasy games) have plenty of throwaway characters, and even though they are in your party for an extended time, they don’t feel like they belong.
Almost every party member in FFIX feels like they belong in some way, and Square did a great job making them feel like part of the story. The story itself is a classic high fantasy plot — there’s an ultimate evil that must be stopped. A boy with fragile self-confidence loves a damsel in distress. The boy then banishes his fears through motivational speeches and FRIENDSHIP and saves the girl. Also, you can catch frogs, so there’s that.
Combat wise, the game excels. The menu-driven turn-based combat ages well since there are no clunky mechanics or movement to worry about. Players are just picking their attacks. Certainly simple by today’s standards, but it stands the test of time. While there is a lot of good in Final Fantasy IX, it’s not a perfect game. I mentioned earlier that ALMOST every party member feels like they belong, and that’s true. All of the characters except for Amarant feel like part of the group. He definitely feels like he’s just . . . there. You’re able to have four players in your party at any time, and he definitely feels like a “we need to have eight characters, so throw this guy in” kind of guy.
Also, the final boss fight is infamously awful. Throughout the story, the character Kuja is billed as the big bad, with the story culminating in an epic boss fight against him in his most powerful form. It’s honestly awesome. He uses some of the most powerful magic in the game and it really sells the fact that this dude is insanely powerful and he needs to be defeated for the world to be saved. So you defeat Kuja and think everything is all well and good, but then BOOM. The ACTUAL final boss appears: Necron. The embodiment of death itself. A villain that has literally only been a thing right now, never before mentioned in the game. Is it a hard fight? Yes. Is it a bad fight? No. Is it a necessary fight? Absolutely not.
I don’t mind the idea of an entity more powerful than the previously all powerful person, but at least build up to it. The Necron fight takes all the incredible goodwill the Kuja fight built up and flushes it down the world’s biggest toilet.
So how does Final Fantasy IX hold up today? Pretty well actually. As I said, the combat stands the test of time, so no issues there.
I still love experiencing the story, and seeing the characters bring that world to life. It’s still as fun today, as I thought it was when I was a kid. Not everything holds up though.
The Necron fight is still there, leaving a big stain on the ending of the game. The minigames haven’t aged well either. “Chocobo Hot and Cold,” a minigame where you ride a treasure pecking giant chicken while being screamed at by a Moogle, didn’t play well then, and certainly doesn’t play well now.
Perhaps most importantly, and understandably, the game looks horrendous by today’s standards.
Playstation 1 games have aged the worst when it comes to graphics, and even the recent rereleases of the game don’t do anything to help how muddy the characters look. I mean, look at THIS:
But looks and gameplay elements aside, I can’t take off my rose-colored glasses for this game, and I don’t feel like I need to.
Final Fantasy IX is, to me at least, the last “real” Final Fantasy game. It’s the perfect way to end an era of a series that I have literally been playing since I was old enough to hold a controller.
It will always have a special place in my heart, as one of the games I look forward to playing through at least once every year just to experience the adventures of Zidane and crew.
Now that it’s on every platform known to man, including mobile, there’s no excuse for anyone not to experience one of the greatest RPGs put on disc, cartridge, or otherwise.