Happy anniversary to Final Fantasy 9, which recently turned 20. When Final Fantasy fans rank their favorite games in the series, the ninth adventure is consistently near the top of said lists. Its bright, imaginative world and simple but lovable story captured fans's hearts in 2000, and if the tributes are any indication, that adoration hasn't budged since.
The long-lived RPG community RPGsite published an interview with members of Final Fantasy 9's development team to celebrate the game's anniversary. The conversation reveals some interesting tidbits, like how Final Fantasy 9's development team was surprisingly diverse for its time. Character artist Toshiyuki Itahana also admits he'd like to see Final Fantasy return to Final Fantasy 9's unique style, which was inspired by the 1982 fantasy movie Dark Crystal.
Ithana recalls how Final Fantasy 9's unique character designs fit in perfectly with the theme of the game, which often returns to drama, theatre, and performance. "There is a repeating motif in Final Fantasy 9 of on-stage performances, and so I think the style is a good match," he says. "The character’s large limbs make it easy to convey emotions through exaggerated reactions, just like actors do in theatre."
When Final Fantasy 9 was in production, Square Enix (then simply Squaresoft) had a lot on its plate. The enormous success of Final Fantasy 7 inspired the studio to ramp up its output, which gave us Final Fantasy 8 and Final Fantasy 9 in quick succession. The movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was also in production, leading Squaresoft to open an office in Hawaii. People from all over the world came to work at Squaresoft Honolulu, and some foreign staff helped design weapons, characters, and background art. Nowadays it's not uncommon for an international team to design games remotely, but Japanese game development was still quite closed off in 2000. Squaresoft Honolulu's sprinkling of non-Japanese staff was unusual for the time.
"The majority of staff were Japanese, but amongst the background designers, we had staff from Germany, someone from France who spoke five languages, American staff that had worked on matte paintings for the movie Titanic, and Korean staff working on designing gadgets," Ithana tells RPGsite. "It was a team from all around the globe."
Finally, Ithana recalls a particularly high-stress moment from Final Fantasy 9's development. Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy and the producer of Final Fantasy 9, said he didn't like the design for one of the game's leads, Garnet. He didn't think she looked "charming" enough for a heroine.
"Garnet’s in-game models and motions had already been created, so when the message was passed on, there was a big commotion. I worked together with the Art Director, Hideo Minaba, to create some new design proposals, using as many of the pre-created motions as possible," Ithana says. "In these proposals, we put forward lots of ideas—a lighter-haired Garnet, an outfit that was more like a dress… The finalised design for Garnet came from one of these proposals, which altered her hairstyle and outfit." Ithana and his team seemingly made the right alternations, as is still a beloved Final Fantasy heroine. In fact, Final Fantasy 9 is still generally revered. Senior Editor Caty McCarthy recently wrote about her fond memories for the game.
I also wrote about my experience with Final Fantasy 9, which I played for the very first time in 2017. I've since come to understand why people love the game so much. Though, I have to admit its very slow pace—a consequence of the disc pushing the then-aged PlayStation to its absolute limit—would have been a huge turn-off if not for the PlayStation 4 version's "fast forward" option. I love me some retro PlayStation JRPGs, but if you can feed them to me without the load times, more's the better.