Final Fantasy IX was originally released in Europe back in 2001. Squaresoft scored a hat trick with this third and final entry for the series on the PlayStation as just like the two games before it, it was a critical and commercial success. Unlike Final Fantasy VII and VIII though, Final Fantasy IX avoided a futuristic setting and returned to its roots with a more medieval themed era. There were no trips to space as the world was just coming to grips with steam powered machines. Many aspects of Final Fantasy IX are an homage to the beginning of the series. Crystals, a consistent theme in the early Final Fantasy games were reintroduced as a strong theme here too. This intention to look back on the beginning of the series is made clear even by the logo to this entry, a large crystal. The music had a more old world feel to it and was again another way for the game to pay respect to the older games, with some tunes being almost identical to the ones of the past.
Character classes are brought back in a sense too. Rather than everyone being able to learn a variety of skills, only certain characters have access to different types of abilities. Vivi, the black mage can use black magic attacks, Steiner the Knight has the sword skills and Garnett and Eiko have summoning and white magic. Another reference to the Final Fantasy of old is the ‘Dragoon’ class. Freya has the moves fans of this class will remember such as ‘Jump’ which lets her avoid an attack for one round by jumping high into the air and landing on top of the enemy in the next round with a powerful attack.
A new addition to the battle system was the cool looking but not as useful as you’d expect Trance mode. It was like the Limit Break or special move each character got to use periodically. When they entered trance mode their appearance changed, Steiner’s knight helmet covered his face or Vivi’s mage hat shot straight up and their attacks became more powerful. The issue with this was that the gauge measuring this filled as you received damage and you couldn’t control it meaning a character could enter Trance mode at a completely useless time such as the very end of a battle.
Final Fantasy IX pulled away from the realistic style of Final Fantasy VIII before it and had the characters a bit more deformed and cartoon like. This was a brilliant design choice as each character stood out and it really made the game as a whole stand apart from its two well known predecessors. There were still similarities between the games still since the backgrounds of towns and other areas were detailed 2D images which 3D sprites of characters travelled around on. FMV cut scenes were of course present too and continued to be impressive.
It also tried to follow on from the success of Triple Triad, the card game in Final Fantasy VIII, with its own version Tetra Master. Unfortunately this flat out failed. There is still enjoyment to be had for some players but the new rules to this card mini game and the element of chance that was added to it left the game falling short of most people’s expectations.
The characters and plot were a welcome change of pace from previous games. I remember being interested in the idea of taking control of a thief instead of the trained soldier types of Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII.
The main character Zidane was nothing like Squall in Final Fantasy VIII. Squall had been reserved and moody but Zidane was outgoing and had a cheerful disposition. His romantic relationship with Garnett is pretty different than Squall’s relationship with Rinoa too!
While I didn’t like Garnet initially, she became my favourite character…and then what do you know had a bit of a breakdown and temporarily became mute losing some of her abilities in battle. Don’t even get me started on when she cut off her hair. That was the most shocking part of the game for me. I still have such a clear memory of watching this scene play out open mouthed. I have long hair, nobody can cut it themselves that cleanly, what kind of dagger was that…
Perhaps it was down to the striking visual style, but each of these characters stood out a lot more than previous games with very unique appearances that avoided being reiterations of characters from other games. Amarant, Vivi and Freya had no similar counterparts to be compared to at the time. Each character had their own motivations for travelling with you. How they struggled with their own personal issues was another theme to the game, with each of them being shown with a phrase that expressed some of their beliefs during the promotion of the game.
Speaking of promotion, in Japan the world of Final Fantasy IX and its characters were used to advertise Coca Cola. Check out the advertisement below, it’s definitely worth a look for novelty purposes alone.
I don’t think I should finish this without mentioning the official guide that was released with the game and how ridiculous it was. The guides for the previous games were excellent so for this one I do think it was a design choice that just went horribly wrong. Scattered all throughout the guide were PlayOnline codes. Rather than telling you how to get a certain item or beat a particular monster in the guide, it told you to go to this website and enter a code to find out how to do it… defeating the purpose of buying a physical guide in the first place. Not only that but back then everyone didn’t have access to the internet and even if you did, dial up connections were never fun and were always expensive. I just paid for a guide; I don’t want to continue paying for the cost of a phone call every time I want to use it! Thankfully this format did not continue in the series afterwards.
Final Fantasy was released on PSN in 2010. It is €9.99 and playable on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable and Vita. It was the last entry on the PlayStation and for me it was also the last great Final Fantasy game in the series to date. The series has been going downhill ever since but heres hoping the recently announced Final Fantasy XV gets it back on track.