RPGamer Preview: Final Fantasy IX

Hotly anticipated, the ninth installment makes a return to the roots of the Final Fantasy series.

The introduction

I prefer Life 		2, myself...
Phoenix Down: always good in a pinch

Blinding sunlight: Hey, at least it's not lensflare

Odin rides in on Slepnir

Toasty spell effects

Summons taste better with mustard!
Giant flaming burger or Ifrit's summon? You decide.

View Photo Gallery

Platform: Sony PlayStation
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square EA (North America)
Rated Teen for violent content.

Though Playstation 2 is stealing most of the gaming headlines these days, its predecessor is going to get at least one more kick at the proverbial RPG can before things are said and done. On November 14th, Squaresoft will release the 9th installment of its beloved Final Fantasy series, and the last to appear on the PSX. Unlike the previous two titles for this system, however, Square has opted for a more conventional approach to Final Fantasy IX; namely, they have reverted to a fantasy setting. This will doubtlessly come as a delight to the older fans of the series, and offer a new perspective for those that started out with Final Fantasy VII. Whatever the case, the game offers much to fans of both stripes.

In the game, you get to play as Zidane, a dubious character who, as a member of the rogue group Tantalus, is out to do roguish things, namely kidnapping the princess Garnet. As is to be expected, things don't turn out as expected, and before too long, Zidane, Garnet, a young black mage by the name of Vivi and an assortment of other characters are flying around the divided world of Gaia. Gaia is a series of continents, so expect to spend some time in an airship; expect also to do some exploring, because there's a fair number of them.

Final Fantasy IX follows in the footsteps of its predecessors in terms of gameplay. There is the usual exploration, a wide variety of towns, and an array of mini-games rivalling any of the previous entries in the series. Featured prominently here is QuadMist, a revamped version of the card game Triple Triad from Final Fantasy VIII. If the other mini-games aren't enough to sate your need for additional fun, QuadMist should do the trick.
The story in Final Fantasy IX is portrayed through both gameplay and FMV sequences, following in the footsteps of later entries in the series. As with other elements of the game, however,this commitment to the new is coupled with respect for the roots of the series, and the same basic messages inherent in each Final Fantasy game will be presented here again. The FMV itself is of excellent quality, as is evident in the screenshots that have been released; the artistic style of the game, however, gives it a less realistic look than Final Fantasy VIII.
Rather than the excessive customizability that both the junction and materia systems offered, Final Fantasy IX has a new and somewhat more constrained system. Dubbed the "Item-Creation" system, it makes use of ability crystals to build up the character's powers without allowing them to become omnipotent. In this way, character classes are reinstituted into the battle system, a definite throwback to earlier days.
The combat system sees the return of four character parties in battle. The usual assortment of attacks, spells, and abilities return, as well as the limit break system, this time under the name trance system. The summon spells return, although there is mercifully an option to shorten them, so the misery of watching Eden take a full minute to deal damage will happily not be repeated. As there are now four characters fighting, the level of detail in the battle graphics is of necessity slightly lower than Final Fantasy VIII; however, the spell effects are still more than adequate, and the graphics do not really suffer.

Final Fantasy IX
is scheduled for release on the PlayStation on November 14.
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