Melodies of Life
Final Fantasy IX turns 20 next week. It is hard to believe that it has been two decades since I first booted up the game on my old PlayStation console, but time sure flies. Just like its soundtrack (which is Uematsu’s favorite), and its main theme song “Melodies of Life”. Final Fantasy IX, is truly an unforgettable game.
The “Greatest Final Fantasy Ever” discussions – for the vast majority of fans – are usually topped by two titles: Final Fantasy VI, and Final Fantasy VII. That said, a very good argument can be made for Final Fantasy IX being the series’ best, and most polished entry.
As it stands, FFIX is the last Final Fantasy crafted in the “old Final Fantasy” format. Consequently, my nostalgic lenses, and yearning for days of yore. Play a part in my immense love for the game.
Released on November 2000, as the final “Final Fantasy” game on the PlayStation 1. Final Fantasy IX, benefitted from the lessons learned in the series’ previous two entries. Gone was the complexity of the Junction system found in Final Fantasy VIII. And the gloomy ‘lone wolf’ protagonists of the previous two titles. The game improved on previous games’ awful translations, and ditched the recent (FFVI-VIII)Sci-Fi settings.
Final Fantasy IX, brought the “Fantasy” part of the title back in a big way. Sakaguchi, and team, refreshingly (at that point), returned the series to its original medieval high fantasy settings. Squatty, “Cute” characters were back in play along with with a new emphasis on funny dialog, and character development.
More than any other Final Fantasy game that I have ever played, Final Fantasy IX, looked, sounded, and played like a game that was conceived as a labor of love. I am not surprised that the game features Uematsu’s favorite soundtrack (even if I think FFVI’s is greater), as FFIX feels like the kind of game that the original FF team had always wanted to craft.
Final Fantasy IX: Polished Simplicity at its Finest
There is nothing overly complicated about about Final Fantasy IX. The plot is pretty straight forward, and easy to understand. The character progression system in itself, was as simple as it had ever been. Character skills were designated to each character natively. For example: Vivi is a black mage in the game, therefore in battle he is a black magic user.
Even its card battling mini-game, is less consequential to its gameplay, than Final Fantasy VIII’s own take on card battling.
Now, I am not saying that I prefer FFIX’s card game over FFVIII’s. That is simply not the case. I just want to reinforce FFIX’s “less is more feel”. The game’s straightforward approach really helped me to just sit back, and enjoy the excellent pace of its storytelling.
Issues between the protagonist and the main villain eventually got more complex, as I approached the game’s finale. The villain had a powerful connection the protagonist. And yet, I felt that Zidane, and the rest of the crew had been authentic, and easy to like.
FFIX definitely features the most fun to ‘read’ crew of any Final Fantasy game. Sakaguchi managed to combine aspects of character development and dialog of games like Namco’s Tales series. And, blended them with Final Fantasy’s own brand of darker, perhaps, more meaningful themes in FFIX’s storytelling.
Final Fantasy VII, at least to me, has the better story. As a result, of its characters, complexity of plot, and relevant to real world themes like capitalism, terrorism, genetic manipulation, etc. However, in terms of pacing, writing, and overall enjoyment, I feel that Final Fantasy IX did a better job. It was the culmination of more than a decade of Squaresoft’s storytelling efforts across dozens of role-playing games.
So, to add to my enjoyment of FFIX, after FFVIII’s time compression mess, I just wanted a simpler – yet epic – ride, and FFIX delivered it in spades. Square didn’t only ‘perfect’ its brand of JRPG storytelling and writing here, but it also turned in its most impressive visual showcase ( and the best looking JRPG of the generation) up to that point.
FFIX featured painstaking detail in its pre-rendered backgrounds, and its polygonal characters. Final Fantasy IX, on a technical level, was the best send off that the PlayStation could get.
The Most Expertly Crafted Final Fantasy Ever?
Final Fantasy IX, earned our top Final Fantasy award, and remains the highest Metacritic rated (94) FF game ever for good reasons. The game’s story had the perfect blend of romantic love, humor, existential themes, and smart writing. The plot’s pace was fantastic, and its Audio/Visual presentation was unmatched within the 32 bit era. Consequently, with remasters widely available on every gaming platform today, there is no excuse to not experience – or relive – this fantastic classic yet again.