FINAL FANTASY IX
What is it about?
Final Fantasy IX is role-playing game in the style of earlier entries in the series that were rather traditional, compared to the sci-fi, tech-enhanced settings they have right now. It starts off with Tantalus, a group of thieves tasked with kidnapping Garnet Til Alexandros XVII, the princess of the nation of Alexandria (where future heads of state are given needlessly complex names, it seems), who you soon discover, is more than willing to be held captive. Featuring mages, knights, and hermaphroditic gourmands, it was created in a time when the genre was in ascendancy. It was also the last Final Fantasy game to not have any voiceovers.
Why should I play it now?
Quite simply, the plot. It is brilliantly executed even by today’s standards. Most Japanese RPGs get flak for being heavy-handed in their story-telling, having plot twists too convoluted for their own good, and characters that fit the usual stereotypes easily. Scratch beneath the fantasy, medieval-like setting and the obvious “we’re off to save the world” objective, and you’re treated to a narrative that handles heavy themes such as loyalty, death, life and family in an extremely subtle fashion. While most do their damnedest to be taken seriously, Final Fantasy IX is perfectly fine with driving the message home all while letting you soak in a rich, colourful environment replete with nuanced characters that make the current class of RPG heroes seem one-dimensional. There’s Vivi, a child black mage seeking the truth of his origins only to grow in stature as the game progresses; and Zidane, the game’s protagonist, who at first glance, has more in common with Meg Ryan (but with a monkey tail), but evolves into one of most coolest, un-emo RPG mainstays to date. Needless to say, the character development is second to none.
How does it hold up today?
For a PSOne title, surprisingly well. The backgrounds and environments still hold up well and the CG is still top-notch. The super-deformed characters, a hallmark of earlier Final Fantasy games, ends up looking pixelated. However, switching on the option to enable smoother PSOne graphics on the PS3 does help in restoring some graphical fidelity, even if it is just a bit. Obviously, it looks a lot better on the PSP with the smaller screen and we’re sure it will be right at home on the PS Vita post-update.
Is it similar to anything else out there?
Playing through Final Fantasy IX is like sinking your teeth into a greasy burger. There’s nothing exotic or “gourmet” about it, but tastes oh-so-good. That being said, the game’s job system, which has each character belonging to a specific class such as being a thief or a healer, may harken back to early entries in the franchise, such as Final Fantasy III. The difference here is that the classes suit their personalities so it’s only right for Garnet, a compassionate princess, to be a white mage , and Steiner, the princess’ body guard, to be a stuck up knight, rusty armour et al.
What do I need to play this?
You have a slew of options, all of them Sony though, what with the game released as a Playstation exclusive back in the day. Be it a PS3, PS2, PSP or even a PS Vita (28th August onwards), you’ll be able to play this game with ease. I’d mention the PSOne as well, but if you’re still using that, you’re either reading the wrong website or just crazy like me.
‘When I played through…’
I was taken aback by how well everything came together. The serious tale of politics, war and family gelled well with the cartoonish characters and vibrant locales. I was hooked to the point where I ended up flunking two of my mid-term exams. Eleven years later, not too much has changed. Sure, it might look a little worse for wear, but the gameplay and story have aged well enough for me to burn in a lot more time than I should instead of playing the superlative Sleeping Dogs.
Like most Final Fantasy games, there are random attacks, which can be a bit irritating. Unlike most Final Fantasy games, you don’t have to grind to get to the end and aren’t subject to a needlessly complex system to master abilities. You learn them while having specific gear equipped. Furthermore, you used the series’ adorable creatures known as moogles (no, not muggles) as save points. They also run an in-game messaging system known as Mognet and would request you to deliver letters to other moogles in the world. It was a nice way to know how the game’s events affected others. Fresh to the series was ATE. Short for active time events, you could see what other members of your party were up to when you reached a town. It let you obtain rare items, gain a greater understanding of a character, or even solve puzzles when your party is split into two teams.
Where do I get it?
A physical copy of the game should set you back by around Rs 1,100 via Amazon if you can find a way to import it here. Else, the US PSN store had it for $10 (£7.99 if you’re buying from the UK store) and the download clocks in at around 1,530 MB. Strangely, India PSN, which mirrors EU content, doesn’t have it just yet. Odd considering Final Fantasy V and VI are available. But if you can grab it digitally or otherwise, you’re in for a spell-bounding journey that you’re unlikely to forget.