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Every time a highly anticipated RPG comes out, especially a Final Fantasy game, a whole bunch of people write editorials picking apart what they did and didn't like about the game, and wind up complaining about anything they disliked. This is one of those editorials. If you really hate those, please click the "Back" button on your browser now.
Okay? Ready to hear about my thoughts on FF9? Good. On with the show; I promise to say something new.
First of all, there's the ability system in FF9. I loved it. I thoroughly enjoyed obsessively gaining skills in an FF6-esque manner. Although as a general rule I hate level building, treasure hunting and getting each possible little thing hidden in an RPG, when faced with this sort of system my inner collector kicks in and I go berserk. My reasoning goes something like this: "I want to equip the strongest weapon I have on this character. Wait a minute, I've already built up the AP on that weapon, so I'll be wasting AP if I equip this. Maybe I should equip this weaker weapon instead so I don't waste the AP. Now I have to hurry up and learn these skills so I can equip a stronger weapon." This results in a compulsive need to teach every possible skill to every character. It's fun in a somewhat strange, RPGish way. I would also like to add that I adored the fact that characters could only learn the skills appropriate for their plot-related jobs; it just makes more sense that way. The plot drives everything in this game-- in fact, I was delighted with Dagger's status ailment of "Plot Point" which could only be cured by using "FMV Sequence" at the appropriate time.
Characters: Vivi was just the cutest little thing! I wanted to pick him up and give him a great big hug and tell him everything's gonna be fine. Freya, too, struck a chord in my heart; when her lost love failed to remember her it was the last straw, beyond everything else she had to deal with. After that, I almost started crying every time I heard her theme play. And Zidane's cheerfulness and determination is very refreshing in a main character after the string of depressing and psychologically tormented heroes we've seen in the past three games. None of them discover secrets about their identity that are quite as bad as Zidane's; yet the worst thing that happens to him is that he snaps at his friends and can't walk straight for a few minutes. That's quite a change from the recent trend. In fact, I think that the characters were probably the single interesting thing about the whole game. Some of them did indeed seem like reruns of old characters, but they were in new situations this time around, which made it all right to me. After all, there's only so many basic personality traits to go around.
Length: Uhh, I just saw a blur streak through my life; was that FF9? Wow... it seemed very short, particularly the first two discs. That's neither good nor bad, IMO; I would much rather have a short game than an excessively long one with stretches of nothing interesting happening, just to make the game longer. With editorials and RPGs, length is not equal to greatness-- and hey, I still haven't found Mognet Central yet.
Great Moments: To me, there were none. I had hoped for a few instants of raw tearing emotion like those of FF6-FF8, but I was disappointed. There were sad things and happy things; there were ups and downs; but no single moment in FF9 really wrenched at my heart; no scene made me cry or haunted my daydreams. Guys, I cry very easily. It wouldn't have taken much...
Music: To me, this is largely a matter of personal preference. There were about six tracks that I adored (and one of them, the Madain Sari song, didn't make it onto Uematsu's Best CD. -_-) The rest of the music was pretty much blase. Those that I loved, I really really loved, but those that were bad were dullsville.
Mini-games: There was no point to the card game existing at all. It seems like the game designers just wanted to put in something equivalent to Triple Triad so that people wouldn't lament the lack of an incredibly elaborate mini-game. I don't mind mini-games, but they should have some reason to be there, and this one didn't. The chocobo digging game is interesting, but it seems like a lot of work for relatively insignificant prizes...
Originality: Well, Squaresoft is not god, and they've just proven it for anyone who doubted. In the past, Square's trump card has always been their incredible ability to come up with something really creative and special in each game. Looks like they blew it this time, because there's nothing new about FF9. Plot-wise, there is really nothing unique or surprising; no new concepts are introduced; there are no plot twists that we haven't had before in spades. I'll leave the coverage of that to Darien. It's a good game, and right now everyone likes it because it's the latest thing, but a year from now it's not going to be anyone's favorite. There's been so much talk about "nostalgia" and "going back to the series's roots" and wanting to recapture what was so great about the earlier NES or SNES games that we've lost track of what really does make the series great: the fact that it's always changing and Square always makes a new refreshing game unlike nothing we've ever seen before. Maybe the producers themselves didn't fully realize what it was about the series that made it so special, because in their efforts to find what it was that everyone loved, they've gone and left out the answer to their question.
It may be that the folks at Square were just having an off day. Look at how fast they're churning out FF games right now. Even geniuses can't come up with great ideas on demand. Perhaps in this case nobody woke up with a great idea in their head for the next FF game. Perhaps they felt pressured, knowing they had to make a game about something, and not having any great ideas. Well, they can't just halt production of the next game until some good idea hits them. In a huge multimillion-dollar corporation, the ball has to keep rolling; you can't sit back and leisurely have your ideas at the pace you need. So they had to scrape together whatever they could and make a decent game out of it. That's what they did; they got it out on time. We'd like it if every game they made were a masterpiece, but that's not how it's going to work. FF9 was like one of those days where you microwave last night's leftovers; even if you are a great chef, you might need to eat more often than you have time to cook properly.
I'm not really worried about FF10. There's no reason to believe that this is going to be a trend in the series (oh, I know we love to interpret each little event as a looming trend, but it's not necessarily so.) Square HAS talked about nostalgia for this game and wanting to put all the earlier pieces together, and that's just what they've done. Whether they really believed their product would turn out better than it did, or whether they've just run out of ideas, they'll figure it out. They're probably aware of the fact that nothing really shines about FF9, and there's no reason to believe that future FF games will be as insignificant as this one.
There is, of course, the scary alternate possibility: What if future FF games really do continue to be just reruns? Nostalgia is one thing, and it's worked all right this one time, but if Square tries it again the series will be in trouble. You can't feed people reheated leftovers every day and have them believe that you're a great chef.
There is such a phenomenon as "too much of a good thing," and it definitely applies to RPGs. As much as I love them, I don't want to see another FF4 or FF6. If I want something just like those games, I'll play those games; there's no reason why future games coming out have to be just like the old games to fill my craving for the good old days. That's why I would have been just fine without FF9. Now I want to hurry up and get to FF10, because I've been expecting a new FF game and I feel as though I've been cheated out of one. Reheated leftovers don't taste as good the next day.
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