Final Fantasy IX - Imaginor Le Terminus (Classic Game Review)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PC, PS1, Android, iOS, PS4, XB1, Switch
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: November 13, 2000
Ah yes, the final PS1 game released at the peak of Sony's first console right before the transition to the PS2. Final Fantasy IX might not have outsold X or VII, might not have the gripping, tense character focused dramatic story that FFVI is known for. But it takes whatever the best that Final Fantasy brought all these years and just made the greatest send-off of that generation.
Final Fantasy 9 follows the isometric 3D strategy PS1 formula after 2 games, only with this game, brings them better implementations, challenging but fair combat systems as well as new mechanics, enemy variety, and so on. It does all of this while telling a good love story mixed with a great adventure and world saving journey.
Unfortunately the recent enhanced editions for the current gen systems have quite a number of caveats that somewhat hold it back. There are numerous of them both in terms in aesthetics, the UI, menu, gameplay, and technical.
IX's world is named Gaia, with 4 great nations separated by huge mountains and other wonders. Story starts off in Alexandria where a bunch of pirates are tasked to kidnap the princess of the nation, only issue is the princess was actually willing to come along. So the rowdy bunch took her, got stuck in a forest somewhere till the MC rescues her and takes a bunch of friends along to Lindblum. From there, the plot really starts opening up.
This is a Final Fantasy game alright, it's not the best in terms of story but it wasn't bad either. In fact, most games can't even beat FF9's story even. This is a reminder of the golden age of games and how much of a juggernaut FF series was during the 90s. There's a lot of drama, stories about conquest, betrayal, family, friends, plot-twist villains, world building, etc.
Add great dialogues and likeable characters each distinctive on their own and you have a game that does set a certain benchmark, well benchmark for most triple AAA games these days that is. Each characters have certain charms, personality traits, flaws and ethos, including and especially to the villains of the story.
So it's understandable why people want to harken back to simpler times where games storytelling weren't messy or convoluted. They just worked. While there are still Moogles and Chocobos hanging around the game, the world itself is something really big to behold upon and can still amaze even modern players. Some can say it was still pretty ambitious. FF9 is a game you don't underestimate for the story. Though, it still isn't as good as VII or VI was, it finds itself pretty much in a good spot. Also, I forgot to mention that it's also heavy on humor. Yeah, that's one of its biggest emblem.
Yeah, gameplay wasn't much of a priority for this game compared to it story. In fact, the story kind of overshadows the gameplay itself. While there were modifications from the older games, most part of it were kind of similar save for some new introductions.
Combat and exploration is similar to the previous games. You move around a level, there are different pathways that take you to another level. Some levels have puzzles or hidden items to find. Nothing new. However, there's one new and it's called Active Time Events. This is only triggered during exploration where it takes you to different characters in entirely different location simultaneously, this serves for both gameplay and story purposes. It's a nice addition, but nothing really tangible to add for mechanics.
During fights, you play against enemies with upto 4 companions. Each has their own specific roles and abilities. Zidane is a rogue fighter, meaning his skills and talents comes from him as a thief with dual knives. He can scan enemies and steal items from them. While Steiner uses Vivi's magic abilities as a swordsman to lay down serious damage from melee attacks. You pick and choose different characters and sometimes ones that befit different combat scenarios at times. You can change placements of your character by putting the weaker ones with supportive and high damage magic abilities at the back while the ones with fighters stay at front. This is also useful for characters who are low on health.
All the things of every Final Fantasy games like ATBs, limit breakers and summoners are all at the forefront. However, some characters whose limit have been reached, you don't get to choose what they do with it. Instead, ones like Zidane goes into trance state where all of his attack damage are increased significantly only costing few of his LB charge allowing for multiple uses turn after turn or Vivi whose Trance makes him cast two spells at one turn.
All your characters level up with increasing stats and awarded ability points as well as money and Tetra cards(a Final Fantasy mini-game) after each battle or story missions. Within the first few hours, exploring the first part of the world gets you more experience easily as you face random encounters of several creatures of different type of bestiaries in the map. Though, if a character is KO or afflicted with virus, they won't get any experience, which kind of sucks if am honest because that would ruin the pacing of the game at times. Then again, this was kind of a thing from all FF titles before it was changed.
You can equip your characters with better equipment for increasing said stats either from finding them on exploration or buying them from shop vendors. Each of these equipment come with special abilities only available to certain characters since it fits their class. Once you've used them long enough and gained some ability points, these abilities become permanently part of each character's kit without requiring the items for usage.
There's another feature added for equipments called Synthesizers, which takes two or more different items and make one unique based on the formula of items used. This is only done in Synth shops which you would need to find traversing around towns.
The world in FFIX is big, I mean really big. There's enough to travel around and find Moogles at any points. Speaking of Moogles, they help save your game. During large map traversal, you can call one up to save your game, take nap or deliver letters. Yes delivering letters. A bit of a nice touch for immersing you into its world.
Now here are my main complains, one big issue regarding the textbox is the size of it and the fonts. It gets pretty distracting, sometimes even more since now you're mostly playing the game on HD. Even with box edges making it seem 4:3 aspect ratio. What's even more insult to injury, is how everytime you're trying to make the dialogues pop up quick, the embargo before input is too long. I accidentally made choices during dialogue decision points thanks to this issue and it has frustrated me.
Then there's the matter of combat UI, how is it that it's hard to find all the spells by wasting my time crawling so many empty slots to get to the spell I want. This is hilariously bad and distracting at the same time.
Now, besides all of the issues I pointed out for the enhanced edition. I truly do think this game is pretty great. Even if 20 years old. It's undoubtedly fun, especially thanks to its lengthy playtime of nearly 40hrs. More if you want to be a completionist.
Oh boy, this game has seen better days. It's difficult to look at the game thanks to how stretched the background art is. Even though the character models are well updated and seem like something you see in mobile game ports. Which is fine and all. The background art was something that could have been more updated since modders used computer learning to give it the visual authenticity I wanted. I have no complains about the minifigure size of the characters in the game, this is obviously made for fictional tastes and is a tribute to the earlier games of the franchise.
This is a 2000 game based on lot of early 90's FF titles. So everything will sound as it used to in the older titles only more refined, more audible and different range of ambiences. More poignant than any SNES games ever made. Especially the music, thanks to the incredible work of Nobuo Uematsu.
Besides the 3D sprite looking visuals, everything presented is based on this combination of medieval, renaissance and steam punk influences. This is a truer FF game catering to the original titles, even if the nostalgic value sort of starts to noticeably be stale.
Yeah, imma suggest you skip the port and play the emulated versions. Or, better, install the user-made mods. That's where this game really shines, in everything. Am really disappointed that this is how Square Enix chose to rerelease the game on newer platforms.
But even past that, this is a brilliant game of its time. Something to be cherished of. Am glad I've gotten to play this. It's been really fun. The aforementioned issues do hinder the experience enough to just lower the score a bit.