Well, it might not be much of a secret now, but I am a big fan of RPG’s. I have enjoyed the Final Fantasy series since playing Final Fantasy IV on the SNES (called Final Fantasy II in the west, originally). However, my love of RPG’s clashed with my owning primarily Nintendo consoles when Final Fantasy IX first came out, meaning I missed it the first time around. With a recent port of Final Fantasy IX being available on the Switch, I no longer had an excuse not to play the game. It is with great pleasure that I get to review Final Fantasy IX today.
Now, to start off, Final Fantasy IX has a lot of familiar game play features that other Final Fantasy games have. There’s experience points, leveling, learning new skills, and semi-turn based combat with the “ATB” meter showing when a character’s turn comes up. And of course, there’s the deep, complex story too, though no two Final Fantasy games have identical tales to tell.
Much of this foundation has been solid for the franchise’s history, and it serves this game quite well. There is something a little unique about this game, though, and it seems to be the pacing (at least in comparison to the previous entries that I’ve played). I noticed that the game cycles between a few different states: story, town exploration, and adventuring. This cycle is similar to most other Final Fantasy games, but in Final Fantasy IX, the game seems to give almost equal amounts of time to all three portions as you progress.
I found that the game usually gives you some lengthy story portions, sometimes with an animated cutscene, then you have to find more story in the town, then after finding the next story bit, you can then leave town to adventure to the next location. The odd part is, the town exploration portions. At these junctions, your party is separated from one another, and won’t rejoin Zidane, the main character, until you found the next story point. I found that this heavily discouraged leaving town, even if I wanted to fight some monsters to get more gil (the game’s form of currency), to buy the latest goods, leaving me strapped for cash till the party reforms. By that point, I’m tired of looking around, and want to do proper adventuring, so I don’t wait around to get the best gear.
Ultimately, this cycle seemed to slow down the game overall, at least in comparison to older Final Fantasy games. I don’t feel that this is a strong suit of Final Fantasy IX, but the rest of the game is pretty impressive. Each character learns new skills based on the equipment they have set to them and from the ability points they get as a reward from battle. Some skills are passive, so you have to equip them using crystals the characters have on them. The number of crystals each character has increases as they get stronger, so this feature is more like a stat than an item they carry. I found this system to be like Final Fantasy VI and VII’s esper and materia systems respectively, but the characters still feel different from each other in the long run.
Additionally, there is the “trance” system, where a meter fills up as an ally gets attacked. When full, the character’s trance activates, and they take on a stronger form. For most of the game’s characters, this feature gives them a new action in battle for a few turns, making them strong enough to wear down tough foes quickly in long battles. I always enjoy occasional bonuses in battles like this in RPG’s, and found that even though you can’t plan on this activating in this game, it is fun to have when it does show up, and can save you in a tough spot from time to time.
There are a lot of miss-able items and quests in this game, including things that you can synthesize into better items later in the game. There is also a card game called tetra master that you can play the locals in, but for most of the game, you don’t have to play it. There is a learning curve to it, but otherwise you can ignore it if you don’t feel up for it.
The game’s story is a little slow, as it personally took me four hours to get some answers to questions raised in the opening sequence. And while I enjoyed Vivi’s portion of the story most consistently throughout the game, the core story didn’t get really engaging till roughly the third act, where every portion of the tale comes together, and then turns deeply philosophical (this took me roughly 30 hours to get to this point).
Incidentally, I found finishing the game to have been quite rewarding, despite the game’s slow pacing. As the end sequence rolled, I felt that I had grown attached to the world and characters more that I did playing most of the game. I’m not sure what did it, but it might have been the opportunity to reflect on the game without worrying about completing it anymore. All in all, Final Fantasy IX is a deep and rich RPG experience for the patient player. Fans of good, subtle storytelling (and the Final Fantasy series) might appreciate what this game has to offer. Players seeking more action and adventure might not like the slow pacing, but the game isn’t empty by any means, and is worth a look if you like RPG’s.
Here are some game play recommendations:
- This version has a few “cheats” that you can use. I do not recommend using them unless you are having a very tough time with this game, or don’t know how to play.
- View the A.T.E.s (active time events, which are optional scenes in some parts of the game) the first time you play this game, to get as much story as possible.
- Try to learn as many skills as you can in this game. Buying every item might not be needed to finish this game, but can be helpful to get most of these goods.
- Steal items from as many foes as possible for more useful goods.
- If you wish to replay this game, use a guide to find everything you missed, there’s a lot you might not have found on the first run.
- You can also challenge yourself to play quickly on another play through. If you almost beat the game in under 12 hours, you can find a powerful weapon!
- There is a tough super boss or two to fight too, though neither is a must to finish the game.
Time for the Pros and Cons:
- Good RPG combat and customization systems.
- The trance system makes for some interesting battles, when they activate.
- The game is graphically impressive, even by today’s standards.
- Good music throughout.
- Story becomes endearing.
- There are a few throwbacks to older Final Fantasy games (1-6, with the fewest nods to 4 and 6, did you catch them?)
- The game’s pacing is slow, with equal amounts of story, town exploration, and adventuring, meaning that the game takes a while to pick up.
- If you are poorly prepared, you might need to take time to learn certain skills to progress (might not happen to you, but I only did this once for one boss).
- A guide is recommended to find everything, as there is a lot to miss.
9/10 an excellent RPG, but an acquired taste
And that was what I thought of Final Fantasy IX. What was your favorite part of this game? How well did you handle this game’s pacing? Have you found the secret weapon for nearly beating the game in under 12 hours? Let me know in the comments below! If you enjoyed this review, be sure to give it a like! You can also subscribe via email to stay up to date with That’s All Games. Until next time, have fun gaming!