A Tribute to Final Fantasy 9 on Its 20th Anniversary

A Tribute to Final Fantasy 9 on Its 20th Anniversary

Final Fantasy 9 once relied on nostalgia, and now we're all nostalgic for it itself.

Before video games at large got preoccupied with daddy issues, Final Fantasy 9 had mommy issues. Such was the tale of Princess Garnet, a teenager seeking to flee her kingdom of Alexandria because of her tyrant of a mother—a queen who is waging war against other nations willy nilly, empowered by greed and a gray-haired villain; embittered by grief.

As former USgamer editor Bob Mackey once wrote, Final Fantasy 9 served as "One last 'get the band back together' hurrah before making video games would become much more difficult." Indeed, just one year after Final Fantasy 9's release, the PlayStation 2's Final Fantasy 10 debuted in its enormous scale, with the now-staple daddy issues in tow. What made Final Fantasy 9 special wasn't just that it was the last PlayStation entry in the series, but that it was a throwback to the Final Fantasy of old; the Final Fantasy before PlayStation entered the picture. And in that homage, it eclipsed its predecessors and became one of the best Final Fantasy games ever.

On July 7, Final Fantasy 9 turns 20—a major anniversary. More than any other Final Fantasy game, it's the one that's most firmly embedded in my memories. Its static backgrounds were among the best of the era. There's the twisted trees of Cleyra, the Iifa Tree (lots of cool trees, really), and, of course, the classic fairy tale adornment of the kingdom of Alexandria, where Zidane en gardes with a good-natured sword fight in the opening. Nobuo Uematsu's score is delightfully unhinged, from the circus-like piano slaps of "The Hester of the Moons" to the ocarina-led "The Place I'll Return to Someday." Just a year shy of the full-blown orchestrations of Final Fantasy 10's score, Final Fantasy 9's score felt like a farewell to the clever instrumentation workarounds that defined early RPGs.

Oh, the tragedy of Vivi. | Square (via MobyGames)

Final Fantasy 9 was, most notably, a huge departure from the futuristic settings of the then-recent entries of the franchise. In looking to the past, though, Final Fantasy 9 also looked ahead to the future, with its story weaving political dealings, subtle romance, and identity into a tale that is complex and thoroughly modern. It proved once and for all the timeless power of RPGs; whether they're fantasy, futuristic, anything in-between. Whether they're at the dawn of a new generation, or releasing on the tail end of one.

In Staff Writer Nadia Oxford's first Final Fantasy 9 report, in which she catalogued her first time playing the game via blogs and on our RPG podcast Axe of the Blood God, she wrote of how immediately, Final Fantasy 9 pulls you in. "I also like the touches of life you observe from time to time, like the increase in airship traffic as you draw closer to the city of Lindblum," she wrote. "As you fly through South Gate and closer to the kingdom, you see ships around you land on hills and then take off. Each vessel is clearly on its own business, and it makes Final Fantasy 9 feel like a world populated by living people instead of props and puppets."

Its liveliness was especially gripping when I was a mere young'un. I fell in love with Final Fantasy 9 hard and fast. It excelled from the start, with how its heist of ding dongs nearly goes wrong, but ultimately veers right. While I grew up watching my mom play Final Fantasy games, when it came time for me to play them on my own, I played them backward: Final Fantasy 9, then Final Fantasy 8, and finally Final Fantasy 7.

Final Fantasy 9 was my first real RPG. I played it myself the same year that Kingdom Hearts, an action-RPG that fused Final Fantasy characters with Disney goodness, released. I was around 11; not fully cognizant of all of Final Fantasy 9's themes, but enthralled by Zidane, Garnet, Vivi, and the rest all the same. It also got me into my first digital card game: Tetra Master, perhaps prophetic of how I would one day get really into Gwent during my journey with The Witcher 3.

From black mages to political intrigue, Final Fantasy 9 is a game saturated with nostalgia for "old" Final Fantasy, and now 20 years later, it is a piece of RPG history itself. Over the past month, I've found myself particularly entrenched in looking back at it, as my non-work podcast's Discord has been doing a community playthrough of it. I've watched them livestream their own "chapters," and some are even making original pixel art every week to lead the weekly discussion. It's been a delightful way to re-digest Final Fantasy 9, even though I haven't been able to play along with them. If anything's apparent to me in 2020 compared to 2000 (or 2002 when I played it myself for the first time), it's that they really don't make 'em like this anymore.

Major Game Releases: July 6 to July 10

Here are the major releases for the week of June 29 to July 3. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.

  • Catherine: Full Body [July 7 for Nintendo Switch]: Last year, we reviewed Atlus's current-generation revisit of Catherine, which remastered the PS3 and Xbox 360 game, as well as added a whole new Qatherine to fall in love with. (Yes, that's really the third one's name.) This week, Catherine hits Switch. Given that it's mostly a puzzle game, it's easy to see it being right at home on the semi-portable platform.
  • Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 [July 10 for PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch]: During June's New Game Plus Expo livestream, Inti Creates announced a surprise follow-up not to Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, but its companion 8-bit game, Curse of the Moon. Curse of the Moon 2 introduces three new companions for Zangetsu, including a corgi who pilots a mecha. You read that right. Look forward to our review later this week.
  • Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise [July 10 for Nintendo Switch]: This week may be a blessing in disguise, thanks to Deadly Premonition 2's release. The strange sequel was announced nonchalantly during a Nintendo Direct last year. The original is known for a lot of things: the strange cadence of its dialogue, how much it's trying (and failing) to be like Twin Peaks, how awful it plays, that whistle song... We, for one, are interested to see how this Switch-exclusive (!) sequel pans out.
  • F1 2020 [July 10 for PC, PS4, Xbox One, Google Stadia]: Codemasters's latest Formula 1 game is out this week, with F1 2020. For the first time in the series, F1 2020 will allow players to create and customize their very own Formula 1 team. Considering races all across the world have been canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps F1 2020 is especially essential for fans this year.

Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week In Gaming

  • Evo Online is canceled. The online pivot for Evo is no longer happening, following allegations brought against Evo president Joey "MrWiz" Cuellar. Before Evo was formally canceled late last Thursday evening, the developers behind Mortal Kombat 11, Them's Fightin' Herds, Street Fighter 5, and more pulled out of the fighting game competition. Additionally, Evo announced that it is working toward Cuellar's "complete separation from the company." The Super Smash Bros. community has also weathered dozens of allegations against a wide swath of the scene's top players, in addition to other players in the fighting game community. It appears to truly be a moment of reckoning for the FGC.
  • Holy cow, it's already July. We can't believe it. This month's shaping up to have a number of big releases. Ghost of Tsushima and Paper Mario: The Origami King are out on the same day next week. The long-anticipated Ooblets is hitting early access in mid-July. Just this week even, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 and Deadly Premonition 2 are out. While not quite a gridlock month, every week has plenty to look forward to.
  • Ubisoft is promising "profound changes" following the waves of recent allegations of systemic abuse at the studio. Late Friday evening, following CEO Yves Guillemot's statement on July 2, Ubisoft announced that VP of Editorial, Maxime Béland, has resigned following allegations of misconduct—though Ubisoft clarified in a statement to GamesIndustry.biz that it is still investigating the allegations against him despite his resignation. Meanwhile, an unnamed employee at Toronto was terminated, while VP of editorial and creative services Tommy François is currently on disciplinary leave during Ubisoft's investigation.
  • Microsoft sets an official date for its Xbox Games Showcase: July 23. On July 23 at 9 a.m. PT (yawn, so early), Microsoft will be livestreaming a games showcase for Xbox Series X. The timing lines up with the Xbox Summer Games Fest demo event, which is running from July 21 to July 27, where a number of Xbox demos will debut. We'll, obviously, be tuning into the big Xbox stream later this month.
  • Amazon Studios pulled its debut game back into beta... after it already released? In case you missed it—and we don't blame you if you did—Amazon stealth released its first game in May. Only it was perhaps too stealthy. Reports point to Crucible flopping upon launch, in terms of its player count. Late last week, the mega-corporation announced it was yanking Crucible back into beta, despite already being available on storefronts. It's a strange circumstance that we've never seen before.
On this week's Blood God, we look back on Fable (and other Xbox RPGs!). | Big Blue Box Studios/Microsoft Game Studios

Axe of the Blood God for July 6, 2020

Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.

The original Xbox didn't have that many role-playing games, but it was nevertheless a watershed moment for both console history and the RPG genre. Kat and Nadia look back on Microsoft's entry into the console market and talk about Knights of the Old Republic's breakout success, Fable's broken promises, and much more, Plus: Reacting to the newly-announced Fallout TV show! Does it have any hope of being good? We discuss!

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Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

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