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Place of Memory
Final Fantasy. One of the biggest series in the RPG universe. A series so hyped and famous that even those who have never touched an RPG more or less know about them. A series in which every new part released is always met up with insanely high expectations from everyone. Square does indeed deserve much of the attention they get for their flagship series, however... are they really that good? In the year 2000, the ninth part in the main series was finally released. This time, Square took us back to the more traditional, old-school style which the series once had back in the NES and SNES eras. Not only that, they also filled the game with loads of references to the older titles as a bonus. Retro is nice and all, but is it really enough to satisfy the fans of a series such as Final Fantasy?
Final Fantasy IX is, not to much surprise, about a young boy with an adventurous spirit. He's called Zidane, and lives the wild life of a thief together with his friends in the city of Alexandria, where the Queen lately has started terrorising the neighbouring kingdoms in order to gain more power. During the intro scene, we see how this gang of bandits prepares to perform for the Royal family at the local theater in town. In reality, their plan is to abduct the princess during the show, in order to stop the Queen from completing her evil plans. The plan succeeds, but there are more people involved than Zidane thinks, and he is quickly growing attached to the princess. While the plot itself is quite predictable, and not very complicated or deep at all (which I usually prefer a plot to be), it's at least told in a wonderful way, and has loads of references to the older Final Fantasy games. If you're after a plot similar to the ones in Xenogears, FF Tactics or Valkyrie Profile, you will most likely only be disappointed by this story. However, if you're looking for a light-hearted, simple plot about love and friendship, this is the plot for you.
The battle system in FFIX is very basic, and will give most old-school fans of the series a real nostalgia trip. While both FFVII and VIII were limited to three characters in battle, FFIX returns to using up to four at the same time. The ATB bar is still around and remains unchanged, though. In battle, characters can attack, defend, use items and their special abilities. The special abilities sort of depends on what type of class the character is. For example, Vivi is a black mage, and can thus only cast attack spells and such. Garnet is a summoner, and has the elemental summons as her special attacks, and so forth. While there are no limit-breaks (powerful special attacks, seen in FFVI, VII, VIII, X etc) in FFIX, all characters can go into "Trance" mode. While trance technically is quite useful, it's a lousy replacement for limit-breaks. Whenever a character goes into Trance, he or she will begin to glow, and become more powerful. Trance doesn't mean the same thing for everyone though. When Vivi's in Trance mode, he can cast two spells at once within the same turn. When Zidane is in Trance mode, his attack power is boosted, and some of his abilities change. The thing with Trance mode, is that it's way too rare. It almost never happens, and once it does, you probably don't need it anyway. Through my two runs of this game, Trance mode has only saved me once. Compare this to how many times one could get out of a battle easier due to limit breaks in the previous games, not to talk about how much more enjoyable it was to use those glorious attacks instead of just watching your character glow.
Leveling up isn't the only way to become more powerful in battle, you also have to learn new abilities. In order to do this, each character has to equip various items. Each piece of equipment has certain abilities the character can learn. Whenever a battle ends, the party gains an amount of AP, all of which goes to learn these abilities. When a character has learned an ability (i.e when the AP bar for that item is filled), he or she can use it whenever they want. However, one cannot use all the abilities at once. All the passive abilities, such as protection against status alignments, MP boost, counter attack and similar things, must be equipped in the ability screen. In here, you have to place out certain crystals on the skills you want to use, in order for them to work. Obviously, each character only has a limited amount of crystals, so you can't use everything at the same time. Overall, much of the battle system is a bit too traditional to reach the higher grades, as it doesn't provide that much customization. It passes as a decent one, though.
Square have always managed to create interfaces that have been easy to navigate, with smooth camera controls and steering. This hasn't changed in FFIX either, and I was satisfied in all of these sections. The same pretty much goes for the translation of the game. Aside from the infamous spelling error of a certain city name in the intro FMV, there is hardly anything worth mentioning.
In the music section, Uematsu is back yet again with another huge soundtrack. As usual, one has to consider that he composed over four discs for this game before judging, which in itself is quite impressive. Although, a lot of the tracks remind us of his older work, and this didn't exactly start with FFIX either. Overall though, much of the music is quite decent and fitting to the setting of the game, and keeps the game alive all the way through.
If there's one section where Final Fantasy IX really shines, it's in the visuals section. Even now, FFIX is still one of the best looking games that were ever released for the Playstation. As usual, there's also the expected bunch of CG movies, as beautiful as ever. On a side note, the 50hz PAL version of the game was ridiculously slow. Just when we thought a game could never be slower than Tekken 3.
In the end, the section where FFIX falls flat, is in originality. Fair enough, it does sort of have a 'retro theme', but they certainly overdid it. The battle system quickly becomes repetitive and quite boring, and the story holds no surprises that anyone can't figure out way before they show up. I guess those who are looking for a game with a classic touch and a light-hearted plot (as previously mentioned) will be satisfied though. Those looking for a fresh experience and a more different setting might wanna look elsewhere.
Following the trend of the FF series, FFIX is quite simple. Most players won't be having any major problems anywhere in the game, as both the puzzles and enemies are quite easy to deal with at all times. The completion time for the average player will be somewhere between 30 and 50 hours. There's a ton of optional stuff to do though, including a huge chocobo minigame that will keep most players willing to deal with it busy for a long time.
In the end, Final Fantasy IX lands somewhere in the middle of the scale. Some parts of it are good, and some could've been done differently. It was mostly the retro theme that struck me as a bad idea. Still, if you haven't played this game, despite its flaws, it's at least worth trying it out. Just don't expect a revolutionary masterpiece.
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