Ah, Final Fantasy IX — I never thought that in all my years of playing video games, I would be writing a review for a game that made such an impact on my life. Recently, classic titles have been given resolution upgrades to be playable on modern hardware. Sometimes upscaling is all that’s needed, but other titles might need a little more work to be done to make the classic game look decent.
It isn’t new for Square Enix to port classic entries of their hugely popular Final Fantasy series to other hardware, they have been doing it for years across many console generations. Only recently did they re-make the best version of Final Fantasy XII. So when the publisher announced that Final Fantasy IX would be releasing on the PlayStation 4, I had my doubts that this was just an easy cash grab at my heart strings. Instead what I found in this version of Final Fantasy IX was one of the best modern versions of a classic game that I have played to date.
Final Fantasy IX has an amazing introduction that for years had been perfected and fine tuned throughout the Final Fantasy series. This is largely due to how the first couple of hours allow the player to play as multiple protagonists from different perspectives of the same event. First we meet Zidane Tribal in a dark room of an airship, headed to the castle Alexandria, with the task of lighting a candle by pressing the action button.
Such a simple design choice to teach the player about what they can do in the game is echoed throughout the beginning hours. Zidane is part of a larger group of bandits known as Tantalus, who are headed to the castle in disguise of a theater production with the goal to kidnap the princess of Alexandria Garnet Til Alexandros XVII.
After we find out what the bandits are up to, the player is transported into the town of Alexandria to control a different character, Vivi. This is where the game teaches the player the rest of the game’s mechanics, which includes talking to NPC, finding hidden items, and saving the game.
For this first part of Final Fantasy IX the player’s world is limited to the castle of Alexandros, which then opens to it’s first dungeon, which then releases the player into the open world of Gaia. This sequence of events and design choices that Final Fantasy IX takes in its first two hours paves the way for the rest of the story and gives the player enough knowledge of the mechanics to go off on their own and find their way.
Another element that Final Fantasy IX expertly accomplishes in these parts is the way it introduces the cast of characters and their personalities, which in turn motivated me to want to see the mission through till the end. However, like every story, there are some events that could be removed from the game and it would probably be better off for it. For instance, Quina Quen is a character that I feel didn’t really need to be apart of the game and her story arc felt more like padding on the timer than anything.
Final Fantasy IX’s story has other lows, but that doesn’t outweigh general the pacing that story follows. Throughout the game, there will be short sighted tasks that are then connected to a much bigger situation. Such as kidnapping the princess, which leads to a crashed ship, a rescue mission, and the discovery of a possible war that is about to occur.
This flow continues throughout the game, but keeps the scope of the missions small — even when the main goal might be end up being something much bigger. I appreciate this approach to story telling because it never allowed me time to dwell on what could happen after the fact, instead I’m right there with the characters rushing into a situation with little planning and motivated only by a goal.
When Final Fantasy IX opens up after a certain part of the story, the world is completely explorable by the player and presents a few options for mini-games and secrets. One of these is Chocobo mini-game of hot-and-cold where the player must dig for treasure while riding a Chocobo and search for “chocographs,” which are pictures of locations on the world map and it’s up to the player to find these spots to dig up treasures. Also, of course there a reward for finding them all. There’s also a card game where players can challenge mostly every citizen to a game of cards in hopes of winning and getting some rare cards.
In the fourth act of the game, these mini-games and side events give the player a bit more time to spend with this colorful cast of characters before saying goodbye. I appreciate all the time the developers put in to creating such a large world with so many secrets to be discovered. It’s hard to not get excited when visiting an old town that you haven’t visited in what feels like days to discover a hidden event that would otherwise be missed, and Final Fantasy IX has plenty of these.
Battles in Final Fantasy IX are pretty straight forward, but have some complexity when you incorporate the ability menu. Throughout the game, characters will gain abilities that will need to equipped in order to take effect. These abilities range from adding new skills like protect or steal, and also increasing damage to a certain type of enemy.
Furthermore, if characters take enough damage they are able to unlock a “Trance” state. This is where a party member will gain a unique and powerful skill for a short amount of time, which usually deals a high amount of damage when executed. By timing these Trance states, it’s possible to save them for a boss battle and unleash a wave of powerful attacks.
When it comes the PlayStation 4 version of Final Fantasy IX, you have some new options available to you. The first thing returning players are going to notice are the updated character models that look absolutely stunning in their newly rendered forms. It’s incredible how much of a difference this makes to the game when you can actually see the faces of characters that used to be pixelated blocks. However, the new character models are not always great, primarily because now you can see Cinna for what he truly is: a terrifying smiling mad man. Additionally, with these newly rendered characters there will be times when they don’t quite fit in with the backgrounds, but it really doesn’t hold the game back from looking stunning when compared to its original release.
The PlayStation 4 release also comes with some enhancements that I had to use for this review, against my better judgement. By pressing the start button, players will be given quick access to some helper options: Battle Assistance, 9999, High Speed Mode, and Safe Travel. Each option is pretty self explanatory, but to clarify on Battle Assistance is basically puts the party into an auto-trance for every battle. These options can be turned on and off at the leisure of the players. I felt like High Speed Mode was the option that I used the most, especially when digging with Choco as it doesn’t increase the timer speed, only the speed of the character, so digging is now a cinch.
Additional options can be found in the menus and are more permanent to the player’s playing experience. In the Configuration menu, players can turn on: Master Abilities, Level/Magic Stone Max, and Gil Max. Again, each option explains itself, but these options will not be able to be turned off once activated. It’s a hard pill to swallow for those who remember playing through this game at the age of 12 to turn these options on 17 years later when having a tough time fighting a boss. However, it’s also a great way for these aging players with families to spend some time with one of their favorite games when they don’t have much time to put into gaming. Also, these options never have to be used.
There were also some changes done to the battle menus that show a little more in the option boxes and easily show which enemy you are attacking. This only problem I had with this is that it takes up a huge portion of the bottom of the screen. With that said, I did enjoy the simplicity of choosing abilities and magic — a feature that did get lost in the menus at times when playing the original PlayStation version. I should also add that at any time if you die in battle, there is a continue option that will take you back to right before the battle, so don’t rage quit and turn off the PlayStation like you used to.
One downside to this port of Final Fantasy IX is that the music restarts after every battle. Some might not notice this, but it’s noticeable when playing through a dungeon with a more upbeat musical score. The songs in Final Fantasy IX contain some of the most relaxing compositions heard in the series. I feel this score works well with the underlining dark tone of the approaching war and the loses that every character encounters throughout the story. Yes, there are plenty of lighthearted moments, but I feel that it’s necessary for the party to keep their humor even after they have lost so much — the music is something that accommodates this mood extremely well.
There is so much to be said about Final Fantasy IX, but I feel like this is a game that has gotten better with time. My one concern was that the motivation to push through the story wouldn’t be there for me as an adult as I was wrong. This is a story about a group of characters who were handing a small mission that turned into a world saving adventure. Every new town and dungeon visited contains a new secret that paved the way for the entire story.
Final Fantasy IX still holds up as one of the best RPGs ever made, but that’s not to say that modern RPGs have fallen behind. Instead, Final Fantasy IX is a collection of growth discovered through the classic years of the RPG genre all brought into one fantastic experience.
Final Fantasy IX on PlayStation 4 has rekindled my imagination that for years I thought I had lost, giving me a reason to return to these characters and story that deserve to be experienced by any fan of the genre. Final Fantasy IX on PlayStation 4 is upgraded and re-rendered up to the best possible version for every fan of Final Fantasy, new and old.