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Robot 11-23-2012 06:00 PM

What the World Needs is Some Final Fantasy IX Appreciation

If you couldn't tell by the above image of 1UP's Final Fantasy IX toy collection (split between me and Marty Sliva), we're pretty big fans of the last PlayStation installment of Square's flagship series. And, really, who could blame us? While Final Fantasy IX didn't generate the same amount of hype that VII, VIII, and X did, it came into being at a time when Square's bulging coffers meant that a traditional Final Fantasy sequel didn't need to have a conga line of spin-offs trailing behind it. While Tetsuya Nomura worked his specific brand of belt-based magic on 2001's Final Fantasy X, IX released at a time when the PlayStation was passé; the Dreamcast had hit a year earlier, and the recent launch of the PS2 introduced the world to a visual standard that its predecessor couldn't dream of competing against. In this shadow of obsolescence, Square created one of the sweetest and most sincere takes on the Final Fantasy brand yet to be seen.

Of course, when you lift those rose-tinted glasses, the few faults of Final Fantasy IX are easy to spot. In a perfect world, Square would have moved the development of Final Fantasy IX to the PS2 -- back when Final Fantasies could be nearly annual events -- in order to take advantage of the many features lurking within its hardware. Along with Square's Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy IX pushes the PlayStation further than its engineers ever intended it to go, which makes getting into random encounters more of a slog than it should be; even the battle music (with its slow build-up) seems to have been written long loading times in mind. And, outside of these technical problems, a handful of characters don't seem at all important to the core plot; Eiko, Amarant, and Quina get a little short-changed, and Freya's back story -- which informs so much of her personality -- doesn't receive the development it deserves.

Aside from these minor issues, though, the core story of friendship, love, and loss still makes for one of the strongest in Final Fantasy history, mostly because it's just so damned straightforward and humanistic. Don't even try to ask me what happened in XII, or XIII and XIII-2 for that matter; those games weighed their exposition down with Square-crafted neologisms that seemed to lose more meaning with every utterance. The lore of Final Fantasy IX -- what little of it exists -- doesn't take center stage; instead, the characters do. From the intro screen displaying its various quotes from each of the cast members, it's clear that IX wants to establish their respective motivations from the very beginning. And it's this collection of characters -- one of the most diverse in Final Fantasy history -- that makes the game so memorable; instead of an interchangeable collection of Sexy Teens in Outrageous Clothing, the cast of FFIX ranges from "blue muppet with dreadlocks" to "Buzz Lightyear in armor." Outside of Garnet -- who can only be turned into an object of desire if you're into Gelflings -- the cast of Final Fantasy IX resembles a traveling freak show in the kindest sense of the term.

And it's these small character moments that make the game so memorable: Steiner's move from a stuffy antagonist to a much warmer soul, Vivi coping with his true identity, Garnet eventually gaining autonomy after a sheltered life -- even Zidane, the Han Solo-ish leader of the group, has to deal with some pretty heavy stuff as the plot takes an unexpected turn towards the end. It seems that people have the misunderstanding that Final Fantasy IX rests on the laurels of its legacy by feeding its players a healthy diet of nostalgia, but that's really not the case. Though it pulls the mechanics back to a much more polished form of the character growth systems seen in the the Super Nintendo Final Fantasies, IX only drops in a few very specific references to games of the past, and uses the same collection of monsters and items found in nearly every installment. Series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi has gone on record saying that IX stands as his favorite Final Fantasy, which may explain why so much of it may seem familiar to fans of the series. But Sakaguchi's last Final Fantasy (pardon the redundancy) feels like the ultimate expression of the ambitious little game he helped create back in 1987 -- aided again by an awesome return to form from Nubuo Uematsu, who would no longer be able to carry an entire Final Fantasy game on his shoulders after IX. But man, what a soundtrack -- right down to the unexpectedly good vocal track.

I'm still not sure if Final Fantasy IX still has a mediocre reputation; maybe I'd know if more people actually talked about the game (which is part of the reason I'm writing this blog post). I'm guessing its characters aren't nearly as marketable as those from the newest Final Fantasies, which may be why we see Zidane and company so seldom compared to the bishonen dreamboats that populate most of Square's modern games. But, if you haven't played it in over a decade, or simply overlooked it at the time, I suggest you dip into Final Fantasy IX if you're fortunate enough to have a few days off this holiday season -- especially if Square's recent works have left you wanting more. I'm attempting my own semi-complete playthrough, and I'd love to have a dialogue with people who see the magic in this very overlooked Final Fantasy.

Razeluxe 11-24-2012 03:16 AM

Re: What the World Needs is Some Final Fantasy IX Appreciation
I always hear lots of praise for 9. That being said, it's one of my least favorites.

Demon-Mask 12-04-2012 03:40 AM

Re: What the World Needs is Some Final Fantasy IX Appreciation
Final Fantasy IX is pretty solid, though I think it didn't do so well because it had a feel more akin to the earlier titles in the series than VII and VIII.
I enjoyed it, but it wasn't something easily marketable for it's style and the fact that it's characters didn't fit in with the times, I guess.

stevencassidy13 12-04-2012 04:29 AM

Re: What the World Needs is Some Final Fantasy IX Appreciation
I think I made it about halfway through, it sucked in the same way everything post FF3/6 sucked.

Seahawk 12-04-2012 03:28 PM

Re: What the World Needs is Some Final Fantasy IX Appreciation
FF9 is my favorite game in the series, this OP is dead on target.

Jack Bando 12-06-2012 01:53 PM

Re: What the World Needs is Some Final Fantasy IX Appreciation
IX is the one I keep wanting to play a second time.

joz 12-06-2012 06:59 PM

Re: What the World Needs is Some Final Fantasy IX Appreciation
I enjoyed this title.

Demon-Mask 12-06-2012 09:35 PM

Re: What the World Needs is Some Final Fantasy IX Appreciation
I enjoyed IX well enough, it's my favorite out of the PSX era titles at the very least, not that it has strong competition in that regard.

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