Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware

Final Fantasy IX: A Formula That Works
Company: Square Enix

They did it again. Every time we think that the aging PlayStation has shown us everything that it can do, Square comes along and proves us all wrong. Vagrant Story really pushed the envelope, and Final Fantasy IX is no different. The character models are more detailed than any I?ve seen in an RPG in recent history, with the exception of Chrono Cross, another Square production. The 2D backgrounds that your 3D characters run around on are more vibrant than any previous Final Fantasies, with a little more grit and whim, and a little less machined perfection. And the Full Motion Video is absolutely stunning, not to mention fairly regular. Mmm.

As for the sound, Uematsu is back for another round of orchestrating an epic. And it sounds good. You?ll hear a whole lot of remixes of classic tunes, and quite a few new tunes as well, and they all sound very good. The sound effects are solid, if nothing spectacular -- but since the preview copy is only one disc, I didn?t get to any of the summon spells before I had completed the adventure in front of me.

FFIX is something of a throwback to the older Final Fantasies, and, well, I loved it. The realistic style of Final Fantasy VIII just didn?t do it for me, design-wise, and it?s pleasant to go back to big-headed characters and highly whimsical world designs. The first time you see the airship congestion in Windblum, you?ll know what I mean. Final Fantasy IX is set in a world full of wonder and excitement, with interesting characters and entertaining gameplay.

In the preview, I got to play as quite a few characters. The first disc itself contains roughly seven to eight hours of gameplay, depending on how much time you spend on getting your characters stronger, and you meet no fewer than five people who seem like they?ll be integral to the game.

The ?main character,? as much as the game has one, is Zidane, a thief with a tail who starts out in an attempt to abduct the Princess of Alexandria, Garnet. She ends up joining your party, along with my favorite character, a little black mage named Vivi, who?s extremely unsure about himself and his place in the world. Steiner, the Princess? bodyguard, supplies the required angst towards Zidane, not to mention his fair share of comic relief. And Freya, a mysterious Dragoon from Burmecia, fits the ?dark and mysterious? role rather nicely.

I liked all the characters, though, which is more than I can say for a few of the past Final Fantasies. Square did some really good things with FFIX. The game doesn?t take itself too terribly seriously, which is A Good Thing, so there is some genuinely comic moments as you play. Moogles are back, and chocobos are here to stay. And the irritating Draw method of the last Final Fantasy has been retrograded to the MP system we all know and love.

That?s not to say that Final Fantasy IX doesn?t do a few things differently. Abilities are gained in a method that resembles both Final Fantasy VI and Vandal Hearts 2. Each weapon or piece of armor has embedded abilities. Equipping it lets the character learn certain abilities (thieves can?t learn magic, for example, but they can learn how to block Poison attacks). Once it?s equipped, the character can use the ability from the start. But if it?s de-equipped before the AP cost has been met, the ability is lost. AP are gained from battles, much like they were in Final Fantasy VI, and the system works surprisingly well. It keeps you using old and useless weapons because you want to gain the abilities they contain permanently.

I won?t give away plot details. Suffice it to say that it?s both clich?d and different, with differing amounts of each at different points, which is all a grand Final Fantasy tradition. Major kudos must be given to the Square localization team, who seems to be continuing their streak of superb translations. If the demo is any indication, Final Fantasy IX will go next to Vagrant Story and Chrono Cross as the best Square translations yet.

Finally, a Final Fantasy that?s actually difficult. I had my main character die in a few boss battles, and Vivi died fairly regularly. And I loved it! Of course, it could have been because I was still using weak armor and weapons in an attempt to get different abilities, but there?s something to be said for a little challenge in a game. FFIX is certainly not impossible, though -- at least not what I?ve played. It?s just hard enough to keep you hooked.

As always, the controls are spot-on, while the menus are easy to navigate and understand. Pressing Select gives you info on each item and object, reminding me of Final Fantasy Tactics. It?s easy to get into and play with all the settings and whatnot.

I felt that the enemy encounter rate was a good bit too high in a few areas, but considering that I got my butt kicked by a boss soon after one of those areas, perhaps it was an attempt to get me strong enough to fight. It?s still a little annoying, however, and it makes a touch of tarnish on an otherwise splendid game.

Even though I only had the first disc of Final Fantasy IX to play, I have a feeling that the rest of the game will be as excellent as this, and it?ll all be worth buying. It drew me in like the past two Final Fantasies never quite managed, because even with their technical excellence, they seemed to lack something of a ?spark.? Final Fantasy IX has that ?spark,? and I await the release here with bated breath.

It?s going to be a glorious ride.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.