The spruced-up version of Final Fantasy IX that came to Steam last year was recently made available on the PlayStation 4, too. The release got people talking about Square-Enix's charming RPG, and I was forced to bear my shame and admit I've not yet played the game to completion.
Not for lack of trying, either. I bought a used copy of the game while visiting the United States in 2001, but when I returned to Canada I discovered the discs were deeply scratched. The game stuttered like a Chocobo with the shakes through the first hour, then just quit altogether when Zidane's airship crashed at the mouth of the Evil Forest.
I was cheesed, and I was also poor. I had no way of returning the game or buying a replacement, so I just silently fumed over the injustice of it all. I never tried to pick up Final Fantasy IX again.
16 years and six mainline Final Fantasy game releases later, here we are. Kat and I are talking about Final Fantasy IX via a weekly report on the Axe of the Blood God RPG podcast (listen to it, or your mother will forever be ashamed of you).
It was decided I ought to write a text accompaniment to my journey, too. I think it's a good idea. Final Fantasy IX is very often mentioned in the same breath as Final Fantasy IV, VI, and VII when people list off their favorite Final Fantasy games. And it hasn't taken me too many hours of gameplay to understand why.
I recently mopped up the first act of Final Fantasy IX, if you can say the game's events are divided into acts. I've escaped from the troubled kingdom of Alexandria after kidnapping its princess, Garnet (at her request). I've escaped to the questionable safety of the kingdom of Lindblum, and am on my way to Burmecia after receiving news about an unprovoked attack on the realm. I've made a few friends and a great many more enemies. I think I have enough Final Fantasy IX under my belt to start talking.
I like RPGs that pack your head with questions from the minute they start. Final Fantasy VI asks, "Who is this mysterious girl, and why is she partnered with Imperial soldiers while they sack a neutral city?" Final Fantasy VII asks, "Who is this spiky-haired kid who just hopped off the train? Why does he keep having flashbacks at inopportune times?" Final Fantasy IX asks, "Who's this kid who wants to kidnap Princess Garnet? Is he really an actor, or are there a bunch of naked performers tied up in a closet somewhere?"
(Additional questions: "Why does he have a tail? Why is Garnet so cute and small when her mother looks like a bloated reject from a Hagar the Horrible comic strip? Why is the world populated by hippo people?" Seriously, hippos are fiercely territorial animals, and if they ever become sentient enough to walk around on two legs, civilization is going to have a big problem.)
In hindsight, it's interesting to observe how far Final Fantasy IX reaches back into the series' history. Final Fantasy VII and VIII leans heavily on sci-fi, and even goes as far as to bust out cars on plains that were once exclusively the domain of Chocobos. But Final Fantasy IX's steampunk world recalls Final Fantasy VI's fledgling technology, then makes an extra stretch by making its iconic Black Mages a central point of the game's story.
I'm personally a big fan of Final Fantasy IX's world and setting: I appreciate the heavy callbacks to Final Fantasy VI, and how those callbacks are spiked with generous dollops of Final Fantasy's history. As a consequence, Final Fantasy IX's world is one of color, character, and invention. It's not as grim as Final Fantasy VI's Worlds of Balance and Ruin, nor is it as predictable and straight-forward as Final Fantasy IV's medieval castles and moats. 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. 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 IX feel like a world populated by living people instead of props and puppets.
I'll be sure to share additional observations as this report goes on across the weeks, and I look forward to doing so. I'll be talking about my thoughts on the characters (Freya is the best), the battle system (kind of slow), and the presentation (one of the best overworld themes in the series).
I hope you enjoy reading these Final Fantasy IX reports as they come, and don't forget to listen to the oral component on Axe of the Blood God!