One thing to keep in mind about Final Fantasy IX is the fact that it idolizes the art of theatre, and is thus bold in its aesthetic edge as a play often is. The presentation of the game as a play is articulated via the exaggerated personalities of the characters, their demeanor, wardrobe, as well as the cinematography and how the angles of certain key events in the storyline are presented; it quite blatantly pays homage to the stage. The story is the most cliche part of the game, as well as its strongest suit, since it paves a smooth path for characters that offer only one theme each: virtue, sorrow, dilemma, devotion, despair, indulgence, solitude, and arrogance. Typically, once these themes are combined, the immediate translation is that good trumps evil. Another thing to consider is the fact that despite Final Fantasy IX was released 10 years ago, it trumps in quality and sincerity most games released today.
Final Fantasy IX fluidly expresses itself as a meritorious game without resorting to a head shot, ridiculous trophies that exploit the feeble-minded in their need to compete with equally intellectually barren individuals. It is humorous, fulfilling, honest, and rewarding at the cost of simple investment in level, gear, and learning of abilities. I feel odd typing that last sentence out, at least at mentioning investing anything in a game, given the inflated number of button-mashers seen around the market today that offer no intellectual stimulation (as opposed to Final Fantasy IX‘s social commentary on what is moral and what is not, as well as using certain abilities on foes that are susceptible to that form of damage instead of just wailing at them like a decapitated salmon). Another thing that I am fond of that seems to be phased out of in modern alleged games is the fact that being good is the only path available to choose from. I completely disagree with the silly idea of demanding shades of gray in the badly-written story lines thrown around in recent games. While I will always face situations that require me to be flexible in my life, I am certainly one of those people who play for the sake of some good old fashioned escapism. Hakuna Matata, with Sixaxis.
Final Fantasy IX begins on the planet of Gaia. This world is composed of three continents, one of which contains three kingdoms, and as such, is a connected, diverse place. Ideal travel is done by airship, massive boats that consume Mist to sail through the skies. Mist, is something that has always been on Gaia. It is the same consistency as fog, and areas that harbor dense collections of it always contain the most dangerous, violent creatures. Gaia is a diverse place, littered with seemingly hundreds of races that range from humans, as well as other anthropomorphic humanoids that have outstanding features of wolves, hippos, even fish. Funny side not: Zidane, someone I confused for a girl when I first looked at the game’s promotion back in the day is the chosen protagonist (by Vaanstandards, Zidane is verymuch a male). In any case, Zidane is a swindler, and is mostly human save for having a tail similar to a monkey. Ape Boyis part of a traveling theatre troupe that flies from major city to the next in order to perform plays for nobles and royalty. It just so happens that said troupe was sent out to kidnap Princess Garnet Til Alexandros XVII of the Kingdom of Alexandria, and all is fine until it turns out the girl actually wants to be kidnapped. She believes that her mother (whom she still loves), a gluttonous, savage, sad excuse for a queen, is up to something, and is out to seek help from one of her dead father’s most trusted friends.
A thing to keep in mind is that the characters in this game possess a Mary-Sue quality, and the antagonists an equally dramatic misguided disposition. The music is such an integrated part of the game, and is also as ostentatious in its courageous mixture of high and low notes.
Another interesting character, as well as a vital one to the storyline is a little boy named Vivi. The most diplomatic way to describe him would be to say that he is a Black Mage; a humanoid that casts offensive magic with no facial features being visible due to such an intensely garbed face except for a pair of two big, yellow eyes. What shrowds his face appears to be a black aura. In any case, Zidane, Vivi, and Princess Garnet end up inevitably joining forces to head to the biggest, most successful city in all of Gaia, in the hopes of justifying Garnet’s escape from home, as well as finding out just what Vivi is. The cast is accompanied by Steiner, a gruff, stiff knight entrusted to protect the princess at all costs, as well as Freya, a noble knight from the far away land of Burmecia. Their numbers grow to accommodate the ever-hungry Quina, the powerful child summoner Eiko, and the immature Amarant. Their stories are typically entwined to weave towards an epic storyline, where they end up saving the world.
Each character is more skilled in certain areas of combat than others. For example, Zidane is a typical low-life thief, and because of that is the only character that can Steal (literally take an item from the enemy) in combat, while Vivi is the only Black Mage in the group-he is easily one of the most, if not the most consistently destructive party member. Each character can then harvest skills by constantly upgrading their armor. The armor is shuffled through, ideally, only after the skill it offers is learned. For example, a certain piece of garment can potentially teach Steiner the Charge! ability, but he will only actually learn it permanently if he fills the stipulated number of AP (ability points) points that come with a successful combat encounter.
Game play consists mostly of turn-based combat, which can be set to Active or on Wait. The difference between the two is that Wait makes sure every character on the field has a set order of turns, while Active simply depends on who inputs their command first, you or the AI. Summons are a typical part of combat in this Final Fantasyinstallment, and allows certain characters to summon powerful forces of previously unknown destructive power to wreck havoc on your enemies. One notable character that serves as some of the best comic relief as well as the consistent dark horse is Quina. She uses Blue Magic, and the inventory of spells grows as she eats certain types of enemies in combat. The more powerful her prey is, the more powerful the spells. The combat allows for plenty of flexibility, since if characters like Vivi and Steiner are in the same party, Steiner, who previously only excels in melee will then be able to use the Magic Sword ability. There are plenty of ways to approach the game.
The mini-games available begin with a card game, and end with some treasure hunting on a chocobo; what’s littered in the middle is a series of frog hunts, some stealth, as well as a beast slaying competition.
The theme of solidarity, is a gallant, relentless pulse that can be seen in almost every aspect. The characters in your party are literally from such odd races and yet, the issue of race never pops up. The game is an idealist in this sense. Camaraderie is the only way anything gets done. Whether that is a call for a more open-mind to be shared around the world, or simple, a desperate fleeing from reality is any one’s call.
Final Fantasy IX‘s presentation is utterly gorgeous, especially if one were to recall the previous installment in the series, Final Fantasy VIII. The graphics are beautiful, and the character designs are abstract, all while framed with a sturdy, steam-punk background. This is a world where kings and queens lead the arguably content masses, are defended by knights and mysterious powers, all while riding magnificent airships that go soaring through the skies. The generous integration between a medieval theme and a jarring technological uprising is still a unique setting for this vast stage. I dare say that I have enjoyed this game much more than when I last played it, and while staring at my shelves of games, not many seem to come close to surpassing it or even meeting its standard of prodigal, ripe game play.
This is a sad commentary on the state of games today, since I am constantly shocked at how the likelihood of me running into a horrible game seems to have steadily increased over the span of ten years. Games have lost their substance, and are simply marketed to some tasteless breed of new-age gamers, people who do not like it when a game is too hard, too “demanding” (translation: by demanding I mean requires some thought), or does not have enough blood in it. These are the same people who insist that they are avid gamers despite the fact that they had no interest in video games up until they got their new iPhone or Wii.
To end this on a high note however, Final Fantasy IX, is only a smidgen from the vastly glorious past of gaming that will at least school you in the art of what a good game is, and God-forbid, inspire you to demand a game that has as many merits.
Nerds romanticizing about games is the coolest.
Final Fantasy IX is out on the PlayStation Network for $9.99.