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Final Fantasy IX - Review

"Ooo, now THAT'S a sinister name!"

By: Anna Marie "Paws" Whitehead


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

10-60 hours

 
Overall
thumb and a half?
Criteria

Title Screen
 

   Final Fantasy. For anyone who owns or owned an NES, SNES, or PSX, the name is household. Even many people without consoles have heard and/or enjoyed an occasional game under the series. Now, with the time of the Playstation drawing to a close, a new Final Fantasy is brought to us. The third and final installment on the PlayStation, the new games will be moving to the PlayStation2 in order to follow to unwritten rule of 3 Final Fantasy games per system. So, did Final Fantasy IX live up to the expectations? For the most part, yes. Expectations for the game were high because of the secrecy surrounding the game and the anticipation stirred by Squaresoft. However, the hype may have brought the game down, as people perhaps expected too much.

   The item system is directly linked to the battle system. On each item (well, except the Aloha T-shirt) there are skills to learn. They are divided into two types, action and support. Action properties are for the most part unique to each character (white magic is shared), so if an item teaches the attack Thievery, even if you equip it on Eiko, only Zidane will be able to learn it. Once an item is equipped the action and support skills in the item may be used; however, take the item off and the skill is gone. In order to prevent losing the skill, you must master it. AP is earned along with experience, items, and money at the end of each battle, and eventually you will earn enough AP for a skill to be mastered; this may be as little as 10 AP or as many as 250. Many skills can be learned by all characters, such as a resistance to poison, so switching the item between characters once it has been mastered is prudent. Once a skill is mastered, it is never lost, although you may elect not to use it. Support skills being used is limited by the amount of crystal power a character has. It may be divided any way the player may want, but there is a finite amount, and different supports cost different amounts of crystal. Actions do not have any such limitations though most require MP to cast (even the non-magic ones).

   Outside of battle is as exciting as running around a carnival for the first time. There are many quests and mini-games to do outside of fighting, and since these games and quests grant you special items, the best in the game, it is important to consider them. Although useless, the game Tetra Master, a special card game in the vein of Final Fantasy VIII's Triple Triad, is quite addictive and must be played at one point in order to advance the plot. There are 100 unique cards in all to collect. Gotta card 'em all? The rules are somewhat complicated though throughout the game there are clues on how to play and experience will teach you plenty. Just make sure there's a recent save so the reset button can be pressed! Aside from fooling around, there are items hidden literally everywhere. No nook and no cranny is save from exploration, and when an exclamation or question mark appears above your head, search. The dungeons are full of these items just waiting to be found, including a whole slew of key items which have various uses. Thankfully the dungeons are well laid out and there are plenty of Moogles to go around. Moogles in Final Fantasy IX serve as save points. You may rest, save, occasionally buy items, or keep in touch with MogNet. Sounds like there's plenty to do.


riight
If you say so, Garnet...  

   Sounds also like there's plenty to listen to as well. The music in the game is done quite well and even if some individuals don't enjoy the ukelele chocobo theme, others do. Sound effects are very fitting for the moment and the variety of the audio is appreciated. Sadly while everything is done well, nothing really blows the player away or sticks in the mind.

   Being a Final Fantasy, especially one so late in the series, originality is something that's a bit hard to come by. Chocobos, summons, moogles, spell elements, even the personalities have a 'been there, done that' feeling to them. While this doesn't detract from the game itself, by the end it does get a tad generic. The battle system's way of learning new abilities by using items brings us back to our Final Fantasy VI days when learning spells from espers was top dollar. Bringing back unique characters to battle, even if they seem to have predecessors, brought a lot of individuality back to the game it was missing in the previous two games. Overall while Final Fantasy IX won't turn any heads for it's uniqueness, it's passably well.

   Though the originality may only be passable, the plot is exceptional. True, true, the characters are all pretty big clichés, but they each have their own lovable traits. The story progresses at a decent clip, and it's nice to look forward to knowing what's really going on under Dali than being able to guess ahead of time. There are some really touching moments in the game, and they really draw the player into the world. The ending is enough to bring tears of sorrow and joy to your eyes. It is definitely worth playing the game for.

   The localization was a mixed bag. Poor Lucy probably wanted to be luscious, but instead she was merely lucious. A sad story, really. The literal translation had a few small mistakes, however it wasn't a big problem. The disappointing part was that there was little ambience of culture to draw the player in. As cheesy as a reference to milk doing a body good, it does bring the RPGamer closer to the characters and deeper into the game.


Cutesy or Realistic Name
Vivi: definitely just a kid.  

   So, will Final Fantasy IX be able to draw a player back again and again? Not really. Unless you've missed something critical in the first run through or really like one of the mini-games, there isn't a lot of reason to play it over again. However, a second run through might clear up some of those questions that popped up earlier on in the game which were answered quite late in the story.

   This particular story couldn't have been told without the aid of visuals, however (ahem). Characters have a wealth of expression in their body movement and reactions to their peers. The game could almost be played by actions of the characters alone...except that actions are blurred. However, knowing Zidane is really hitting on Garnet instead of going by her snobby and miffed expression and his bowing to one knee really makes the game complete. It's just a pity there wasn't any anti-aliasing so we could make out those facial expressions better. Outside of the blurry characters themselves, graphics are well done, though until about the 3rd CD the FMV isn't really anything to write home about. Probably the best parts about the useage of FMV in the game was that it was, as usual, used during dramatic, emotional-heigtening moments. It makes them stand out, and when looking back on the game, those moments will likely be what you remember.

   Although the game wasn't mind-numbingly easy to defeat, nor was it particularly challenging. Some levelling up before the final boss may be required, but since you have to learn skills eventually anyway it isn't too much of a bore. Aside from the battles, the mini-games and puzzles for the most part were mildly challenging but not anything you would pull your hair out over. Except maybe that one chocograph where the water is green...


You know the deal-title it.
Too true...  

   If you're green to RPGs, the game may take you a bit longer, up to 50 hours. Those that enjoy mini-games can squeeze another 10 hours or more tracking down that last Stellazio. If you're interested in jsut whipping through the game, an average of 10 hours per CD should get you through the first play through.

   The final Final Fantasy for the Playstation draws an exploratory era to a close. All 3 games for this system attempted to try some new things, some quite radical, and Final Fantasy IX was no exception. Through the ups and downs Square learned we wanted more fantasy, and here it is back, for better or for worse. It merely remains to see now if, when Final Fantasy crosses into double digits and a new system, the series can remain dear to an RPGamer's heart.





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