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Final Fantasy IX - Review
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The best, or the worst?

By: Jake Alley


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 3
   Originality 2
   Plot 4
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Easy-Medium
   Time to Complete

15-80 hours

 
Overall
7
Criteria

Final Fantasy IX
 

   When a new Final Fantasy game is released, there are many assumptions one can make. There will be a character named Cid who gives you an airship. A good deal of importance will be placed on summoning a specific set of gods or monsters. Certain spells and special abilities will be available to your characters. Finally, the basic mechanics of the game will be unlike any RPG before it. However, this last element is nowhere to be found in the latest game in the series.

   The first thing one notices upon starting Final Fantasy IX is the overwhelming sense of nostalgia. The entire game is steeped in hat-tips and references to it's predecessors. While this stirs up many fond memories from long time fans, so much emphasis is placed on nostalgia that the game has almost no memorable scenes to truly call it's own. While this isn't a problem for newcomers, those who have committed the earlier games to memory may find themselves wishing for a little more originality by the end.


Return of the fourth character
Return of the fourth character  

   The mechanics of Final Fantasy IX reflect this sense of recycling. Each of the eight characters has a fixed class, much like in Final Fantasy IV. They learn spells and abilities from the equipment they use, much like Final Fantasy VI's esper system. From a company that thrives on reinventing the wheel, this comes as quite a shock. A much more pleasant shock however comes from the fact that, unlike most recent Square games, managing the abilities of your characters is done in a simple and user friendly manner which consumes very little time.

   Music in Final Fantasy IX, much like the plot and gameplay, consists largely of old memories. Those who missed the familiar sound of the battle music while playing the seventh and eighth games should be overjoyed to see it return. A number of other tracks are taken directly out of older games. Aside from these old favorites however, the soundtrack is remarkably forgettable, with only one or two tracks standing out, and even those aren't quite as gripping as one expects from Uematsu.

   The only aspect of Final Fantasy IX that truly sticks out as original is the artistic style. After proving their mastery of realism in Final Fantasy VIII, Square has now chosen to use a highly imaginative, somewhat cartoony visual style, somewhat similar to the films of Jim Henson. While some complain about the big headed characters and ornate architecture, it comes as a breath of fresh air, and shows just how much emotion can be conveyed through oversized facial features and tiny limbs. Unfortunately, while the graphical style is first rate, the presentation is inexplicably bland. Half a year after Chrono Cross and Koudelka proved that polygons on the Playstation need not be sharp edged grainy figures, Final Fantasy IX still sticks to the fuzzy blurred look of its forerunners.


Far cry from realism
Far cry from realism  

   The game's dialog is another example of a good complex marred by a lack of polish. While Final Fantasy VIII sacrificed almost all character development for the supporting cast to emphasize the interaction between the two most prominent characters, the latest in the series strives to give each character a unique personality. Unfortunately, this is done but assigning them each a one-dimensional trait, and having them act accordingly. This would be forgivable if done in a subtle fashion, but these traits are so blatantly displayed as to be printed in the instructions and on the title screen. Furthermore, rather than yielding the desired collection of personable characters, each character simply spouts a variant of a single line at every plot point. The constant repetition of "Let's go!" "I'll protect you!" "I want eat now!" "I don't understand you." is hardly a gripping narrative, especially compared to the astonishingly vibrant dialog found in nearly every other game recently released. Only one character receives any real development, and some speak less than a dozen lines over the entire course of the game.

   All harshness aside, Final Fantasy IX is not without it's virtues. Battles are a delight compared to the last two games. First and foremost, four characters are allowed in battles at once, leading to much more customization than recent entries. Beyond this, battles are much harder on average, with random monsters capable of actually killing characters, and much better balancing all around. Final Fantasy IX is absolutely free of any five minute long sequences dealing tens of thousands of damage. 9999 is the absolute upper limit. The somewhat degenerate Limit Breaks from the last two games have been removed entirely, replaced with characters going into "Trance" automatically. Unlike limit breaks, these activate automatically, last for several rounds, and simply make improvements to the natural abilities of each character as opposed to allowing degenerate super attacks. Better still, summon animations this time around are quite simplified, and much shorter.


Summons are shorter
Summons are shorter  

   While the familiar plot and battles yield a surprisingly short play time, only fifteen hours, there are, as one has come to expect from the series, a huge amount of engrossing mini-games, ranging from playing cards, to gossiping with moogles, to searching for treasure on the back of a Chocobo. Strangely enough, the average person stands to spend roughly four times as much time on these mini-games than the game itself.

In the end, how much one will enjoy Final Fantasy IX depends on the person. If you've never played a 16-bit Final Fantasy, chances are you'll love this game. If you've spent the last few years wishing for an "old school" Final Fantasy, consider your wish granted. However, if you expect the same freshness of plot and gameplay one expects from the series, you will be sorely disappointed.







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