Review: Final Fantasy IX (Playstation)

In this review, we waken our latent abilities in the Playstation game Final Fantasy IX. We find out how well this RPG game plays.

This game was released in 2000 and is the ninth instalment of this series.

We have a lot of knowledge about this series at this point. We’ve played the original Final Fantasy game. That game wound up being OK, but nothing to get excited over. Next up, we tried Final Fantasy II – Soul of Rebirth. That game got a great score all around. Up next, we tried the 3D remake of Final Fantasy III. That game wound up getting an OK score, but nothing exciting. From there, we tried Final Fantasy IV (titled Final Fantasy II). That game got a fairly solid score.

We then detoured into what is apparently a rather polarizing title, Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. That game wound up getting a great score here.

After that, we tried Final Fantasy V. That game wound up getting a very solid score here. From there, we tried Final Fantasy VI (titled Final Fantasy III). That game got a legendary perfect score here.

We followed the series into the 3D realm with final Fantasy VII. While the title is popular for a lot of people, it completely bombed for us. Finally, we tried Final Fantasy VIII. That game ended up being a flop for us as well. So, we decided to continue on with this series with this next instalment.

The game really has three starts: The first is that Zidane is part of a band of thieves tasked with kidnapping princess Garnet. They set out to carry out the task as ordered by the boss.

The second start is that Vivi, a black mage, is trying to get into town to see a play. Unfortunately, he learns that the ticket he has in his possession is fake. With nowhere else to turn to, he winds up agreeing to be Puck’s slave in an effort to sneak inside.

The third start is that Steiner is wanting to protect the princess. Unfortunately, the Princess has disappeared and is scrambling with his men, the Knights of Pluto, to figure out where she is. The problem is, she doesn’t even want to be found.

All three sets of characters wind up meeting with each other and all of them wind up on a theatre ship that is making its escape.

One of the selling points is that this is game is supposed to be a throwback to the older games in this series. Having played the other games in this series, someone like me would know what to expect with such a promise. Unfortunately, the similarities are borderline superficial as it doesn’t really play like an older Final Fantasy game. You have various characters play classes from previous instalments (i.e. Dragoon, thief, Black Mage, and White Mage to name a few). Those classes affect what can be equipped, general stats, and abilities. Unfortunately, that is really where the similarities end.

Ironically, this game, despite the references to even earlier games, most resembles Final Fantasy VI because the characters already have predefined roles and personalities. The roles gradually merge in that game, making the classes seem somewhat trivial by the end, but that is probably the closest game you’ll come from a previous instalment to this one.

Different characters have various stats as you would expect. Stats like spirit, strength, offence, defence, and evasion (split between magical and physical) affect your characters ability to perform in battle. These stats are largely affected by the type of equipment that you get.

What is new here is the ability to learn different abilities. This is thanks to various items you can equip. As the game explains, different items can bring out latent abilities that are dormant in characters. As you earn AP, you learn these capabilities. Sometimes, it’s just a straight forward spell like Cure, Fire, or even a summon spell. Once you learn it, you can cast those spells.

Other capabilities can be more passive. These capabilities include Bug Killer (deals critical damage to bugs), Man Eater (deals critical damage to humanoids), Bright Eyes (prevents the blind status effect), and Loudmouth (prevents silence). If you haven’t learned these capabilities yet, you can still “equip” them in the menu if your equipment permits it. The thing to keep in mind is that you have a limited number of points to spend in these capabilities, so it is ideal to equip as the need arises (if possible). You’ll get more points to spend as you level up, but you’ll likely need to ration them. Spells and summons do not need to be equipped.

Like previous instalments, players will be able to collect or buy various items. Many can be equipped (such as weapons and armour). Other items can be used at any time (such as potions or Ether’s). A few items can only be used during battle (such as Ore). You can collect items either by stealing them from enemies (bosses included!), finding them lying on the ground, opening chests, defeating enemies, or buying them at various stores. As long as you have the gil, you can buy a lot of things.

Gil can also be collected with the right stealing capabilities, defeating enemies, finding it lying around, selling items, or opening chests.

One thing that makes selling items more tricky is a new feature in this game called synthesis. On occasion, players can stumble across a synthesis shop. These shops create items by combining two other items. For a fee, these items can be combined for you. Most of the time, these items are items you can equip, but other items are synthesized by using a usable item such as remedy. The results are generally items you can equip after.

So, between learning new capabilities and synthesis, it can be tricky to sell something that you may not need later – especially since you go through numerous characters in the process along the way.

Like the previous instalment, this game also features an ability to challenge various NPC (Non-Playable Characters) to a card match. Win and obtain one of their cards. Get a perfect match and you’ll win all of your opponents cards. In this case, the game is called Tetra Master. Unlike the previous card game, this one depends a lot more on luck. You can examine the numbers and arrows on the edges of the cards to increase your odds of success, but it is largely luck based. Also, unlike the previous game, this version of the card game doesn’t really feature anything significant for the player, so it is largely a distraction from the main game. Also, you can only collect 100 cards max. Collect 101 cards and you’ll be forced to discard one of your own cards.

Battle sequences are nothing new. Most are random encounters, but you’ll also occasionally get bosses and even characters that give chase to you.

Like previous instalments in the series, you have to wait for your action bar to fill up before performing an action. This generally gives battle sequences a more chaotic feel to it rather than just the standard turn-based style of other RPG games. You can also use this to your advantage thanks to spells like slow which causes enemies to take more time to take an action.

A feature similar to previous games is the Trance feature. As you take damage from enemies, this second bar gradually fills up. When you fill this up completely, your character will take a trance-like state (causing that character to glow as well). This is very similar to Limit Break in previous instalments. Once your character is in a state of trance, that character can hit harder, take two turns in some cases, and open up a whole new menu of capabilities that is otherwise not accessible. You generally can’t control when your character go into trance and the effects end after that battle is over regardless of whether or not you used up your trance bar.

One thing I’ve noticed is the fact that once this series officially hit the 3D stage of its life (not the remakes), the quality just seemed to drop. Repetitive animations, slow progress, and less than imaginative dungeons just became the norm for whatever reason.

What I will give this game is the fact that fighting sequences do seem a bit tighter. Until I reached the stage where I could cast summons, I didn’t necessarily feel like the game was trying to waste my time by drawing out battle sequences. The load times did leave a bit to be desired, but there is a small amount of improvement there.

Unfortunately, good luck getting to experience very many battles early on. In the early stages of the game, this winds up being a puzzle adventure game more than an RPG game. You get access to battle sequences, but you’ll find yourself wandering city streets trying to talk to the right person to advance the plot.

What’s worse is that the game effectively holds your party hostage at various cities. If you leave that city, you really are on your own. So, you need to constantly retrieve your characters and advance the plot just to get your characters back. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a nice small patch of overworld to work with. When you’re done, you advance to the next town only to have the whole party get broken up again, forcing you to spend hours trying to get them all together again so you can continue building them up again.

What’s worse is that dungeons are virtually non-existent in this game. The city streets, which often consist of a series of alleyways and streets, is the most complex part of your exploration. Dungeons typically contain a thin road for you to travel down. Follow it to the end, defeat the boss, and move on to the next dungeon. The most complex dungeons basically feature a switch you have to throw in a previous hallway before advancing. As a result, you typically have little to look forward to once you do make your escape from various towns.

At first, you might simply say to yourself that some games simply start slow. Give it an hour or so and it’s bound to get even better after. Not in this case. According to sources I have access to, the game doesn’t start getting interesting until disc three. This is a four disc game. So, basically, you’re not in for an interesting game until the second half. I don’t know about you, but I find anyone telling me that a game is great, but you have to drag yourself to the second half of the game first to get it is a very poor selling feature to me.

The plot itself is really boring for the most part. At best, I found it to be mildly compelling from time to time only to fall back into the lines and lines of dialogue to read after.

The Mog system is largely hit and miss (more emphasis on the “miss”, unfortunately). In previous games, you could save and use tents on the overworld. In this game, a lot of those features have been eliminated. You are now tied to finding a Mog to save or use a tent exclusively. Things do get interesting with the Mognet communication system, but that’s where things typically end in terms of excitement.

What I will commend this game for is not continuing to implement the bizarre levelling system of the previous instalment. I didn’t feel like I had to work hard to break the game more than anything else. It’s not saying much, but it is worth mentioning that a more normal levelling system does make a return here. I don’t typically praise a game for mediocrity, but I will make an exception here given the circumstances.

Generally speaking, this game winds up being a real drag. I kept playing it more because I felt obligated to experience a good chunk of the game before passing judgment more than me feeling like playing the game because it’s entertaining. There were long stretches where it felt more like work then fun as I played. The dungeons are far too simplistic and the game constantly breaks up the party. The storyline being forced on you isn’t generally that compelling either. While there is some interesting features such as synth and learning systems, they do get overshadowed by the pitfalls of this game.

The graphics of this game are an improvement over previous instalments. Rather than a simple fade out, defeating enemies also features a simple animation sequence as well. The models are certainly an improvement and the effects are decently done. The thing to remember is that this game was also released in 2000, the same year as San Francisco Rush 2049, Perfect Dark, and ExciteBike 64. Other games already on the market at the time include Turok 2 – Seeds of Evil, Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time, and Donkey Kong 64. While the improvements are nice to see, when you compare it to other games at the time, this game winds up getting blown out of the water. Had this been an early Playstation game, it might have been able to hold onto its own pretty well, but these improvements wind up being too little, too late in my view.

Audio is an interesting thing to judge this game on. The music features a nice orchestral soundtrack which does make this game more pleasant than you would expect. There is definitely some solid variety. While nothing really stands out to me as being particularly memorable, it isn’t particularly bad either. Unfortunately, there is basically a complete lack of voice acting. By this point in time, there are plenty of examples of games with basic voice acting. So, this game does fall behind in that regard. The sound effects are decent enough, but nothing special. So, a passable experience in the end.

Overall, despite the exciting promise of this game being a throwback to an older style of play, this game winds up being a let down in the grand scheme of things. The dungeon’s leave a lot to be desired, the constantly breaking apart of the party, and less than impressive writing leaves a lot to be desired. While there is some positive features such as the learning and synth systems, these largely get overshadowed by the games shortcomings. As for graphics, there are improvements, but this game manages to fall behind what one would expect for a game of its time. The music isn’t bad, but the sound effects are only average and there isn’t even any voice acting either. So, a barely passable game all around.

Furthest point in game: Controlled Vivi on disc 3.

General gameplay: 15/25
Replay value: 4/10
Graphics: 6/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 56%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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