Depending on who you ask Final Fantasy IX is either one of the strongest or one of the weakest games in the series. Before playing I’d heard pretty polarised reviews of it. Let’s add mine to the pool!
Strong or Weak? Strong
Best Character: Everyone else’s favourite – Vivi
Between VII and VIII, the main improvement was the quality of the art (in world, in battles and in cutscenes) as well as the more diverse levelling system.
However, between VIII and IX, the quality of art stayed pretty much the same, and the levelling system went back to a heavy job-based system seen in Final Fantasy I, III-V. It is overall, more typical of the Final Fantasy series.
For non-Final Fantasy people, you are probably asking?
What is a job system?
The difference between a “job system” and other styles of growth is the same difference between “nature” and “nuture”.
A job system is this: from the beginning of the game, a character will be given a “job class”: white mage, black mage, thief, fighter, and so on. The abilities they gain and the stats they level up depend on what job they have. A black mage will learn offensive magic, high magic stat, but low attack and defense. A thief will have average attack stats, but high agility and evasion rates and their abilities will be based off stealing from the enemy.
Without a job system, the abilities and weapons a characters can learn depends on what the player wants to teach them. So yes, you can have a mage with amazing defense, wielding a two handed sword. Or a warrior who can also steal and is fast enough to run away. I prefer this kind of system.
But something you get quite early on is this:
Final Fantasy IX is a massive homage to other Final Fantasy games
I remember hearing that because FFIX was the last Final Fantasy game for the PS1 they wanted to make it special.
It includes traditional elements of the series:
There is probably a LOT more, but those are the ones I could think of off the top of my head.
I thought it was really quite cool that they did this. I imagine there were a fair number of references that went over my head, but I didn’t mind.
Something else non-Final Fantasy players need to understand is that Final Fantasy IX is not a sequel to Final Fantasy VIII in the same way that Final Fantasy II does not continue the plot of Final Fantasy. They are all separate games that usually take place in completely separate worlds. This is why the references are really cool. For example: Kingdom Hearts 2 is a direct sequel to Kingdom Hearts – the plot didn’t finish at the end of the first game, nor did it begin at the start of the second game. Silent Hill 2′s plot has no bearing on the plot of Silent Hill 1, but it takes place in the same location. So Final Fantasy games don’t fit either of those. If a game has a sequel they will append it with “-2” or a suffix such as “The After Years“.
Final Fantasy IX’s plot seems a lot more “Fairy-Tale” than its PS1 siblings. The setting is medieval, where FFVII & FFVIII were future/modern day.
Well, it’s about time I introduced you to the characters:
Monkey is a boy with a monkey-tail. His head is massive! He is your thief character, and also your main character. By “main” – uh, don’t expect any plot about him until near the end of the game…
Alex or “Princess Derp” as we affectionately called her is a Princess whose mum has gone a big cuckoo and also, Monkey really fancies the pants off her. We mostly have to stop her from getting into trouble. She is the summoner + White Mage character.
Snufkin is (quite obviously) our Black Mage. In fact, it’s the name of the race. He has the most moving storyline in the game, and because of it (as well as his killing ability) is the best character. We even got him to use white magic once and I’ll say this much – it hurt the near-final boss a lot more than it would have hurt Snufkin.
We named him Snufkin because he has a big hat.
I’ve always really liked characters with large hats the obscure their eyes so…
Most appropriately, Snufkin reminded me of the aptly named “Wizardmon” from Digimon.
Wizardmon comes to a very sad end, and I hoped the same wouldn’t happen to little Snufkin (“little” meaning both “small” and “young”), but thankfully he has a very happy ending that makes you say “AWWW”.
One of the reasons this game is so moving is because some of the running themes are life, death and finding somewhere to belong, as well as finding a sense of purpose. All of these themes are present with the Black Mages. They are beings created as tools of war. They gain souls, and after that only live for maybe a year. There are no natural beings that are like them, so they set up their own civilisation and try to imitate what other intelligent races do (set up shops and inns) without really knowing why.
And even so he knows he has a very short time to live, he’s still going to help with our quest – in order to help make a better world for Black Mages (and in the end, stop it from being destroyed completely).
And the award to “best character development in this game” goes to Clunky (named because every time he moves his armour clunks together). He starts out as a bit of an ass whose only purpose is to make sure the Princess is taken home and stays there, dammit.
But, like the picture says, he faces a massive Dilemma when travelling – when am I allowed to think for myself and do what is best by me, even if it goes against my orders? He develops into a very likable character, who also happens to kick ass. He is very good at cutting enemies in 2. He is your Knight/Warrior class.
Also, he has a hilarious jumping animation when he gets angry.
Fatty is of a race of beings called “Qu” whose main purpose in life is to try and eat every kind of food. Fatty is a sexless/gender ambiguous character who the game mostly refers to as “s/he” and sometimes as “he” but I personally will say “she” because Fatty dresses more typically female, and I really like her.
Her only reason for coming with you is because her master kicks her out and says she needs to experience the world (read: world foods) more. Her motivation is basically “We’re going to a new place? There might be delicious food there” which is fine. She does what she wants and speaks her mind, which is something I admire. I really like food, and I’ve gotten into trouble for being quite blunt with my opinion before. So… yeah. Fatty is a character I really like. Also, I really like androgynous characters – I like that sex doesn’t have to be important for a character to be cool or interesting.
Fatty is a Blue Mage. She learns skills by eating enemies. It can be pretty trying, but some of her skills are very worth learning and useful in a boss fight. However, her Trance mode just makes it easier to eat enemies, which makes it pretty useless in nearly all difficult battles (as bosses and difficult monsters generally are immune to being eaten). Although, she did eat a boss once. It was awesome.
OH, also, she and Snufkin get married. It’s really sweet.
Gentian is a rat-girl, Dragoon class character. Her story is quite brief, but very sad. Once upon a time she had a boyfriend and he left to go and do… stuff. He comes back, and doesn’t remember who she is. By the end of the game, he still doesn’t miraculously get his memory back, but has managed to fall in love with her anyway.
She is a decent damage dealer, and hardly every gets hit because she spends most of her time in the air. She has some pretty decent spells, but overall she’s very average.
However, I really like her as a character and she has a cool red-mage-esque design.
May’s class is a lot like Alex’s: White Mage + Summoner. Alex is more focused on Summoning, where May is a better White Mage. I just, never really got into her character, because she’s six and I don’t really care, she probably shouldn’t be coming with us (although, I brought her to the final boss because her white magic is really useful).
Called May after May from Pokémon because they both look a little jail-baity.
For those of you lucky enough to not be aware, May (from Pokémon) is ten, but she’s… quite well developed for a ten year old girl. It makes her … a very popular fan art subject.
Eiko (who I named May) … her official art makes it look like she’s not wearing any knickers.
It is just… for some reason they gave her a skin coloured under layer and that’s really disturbing.
Dreddz suffers from “cool design = asshole” syndrome. He does have a cool design! He’s really big and tall and has red dreadlocks, and looks like he could beat you to a pulp. He’s also an asshole.
This is fine. But he is so one dimensional, and not even in the humourous “I’m only here for the food” one dimension that Fatty was.
He has no real reason to be in the party, and remarks on it several times. He wanted to settle a score with Monkey, and he did that, and for some reason he came with us. Uh.
He is the Monk class. He’s pretty good at attacking, and has some okay spells. His Chakra spell which restores MP is very useful and almost necessary towards the end of the game.
But, he is the worst. I just.. what was the point in this character.
One final character I should introduce is the villain.
Up until the end of the game, you don’t really know why Kuja is destroying everything – just because it’s a good time or something.
Also, his design, let’s talk about that.
Why. I mean, just why. Thigh boots. Thong. Top that just covers his little man tits. Why, why is this the design. I want to cry. If you too want to cry, go search for fanart of him. He’s nearly always posing like a pin-up model. and it suits him because he basically does look like a (female) pin up.
He is so difficult to take seriously. This is reflected on in Dissidia where a lot of characters mock him for looking pretty weak.
However, after a certain point in the game you can hear his sanity breaking and he just goes batshit insane and really does want to destroy everything. Long story short, he too (like Snufkin) finds out he has a short life-span, but decides that if he’s going to die so is everyone else.
So, villain motivation is pretty weak but hey who cares, he’s hilarious.
I’ll be honest, the gameplay hadn’t changed a lot since VII or VIII.
There were random battles
And an overworld
And it is good and feels like a Final Fantasy game.
It also suffers from “HERE’S A CUTSCENE, IT’S OVER NOW, GO FERRY YOUR CHARACTERS TO THE NEXT CUTSCENE” at points… which is a shame. It never quite had Final Fantasy VII’s 45 minute plot dump, but it did have about 2 hours of cutscene-scheduled bit of gameplay-cutscene-and so forth. Which is bad for pacing.
However, I really loved IX. How about you? Where you you hold it?