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Final Fantasy IX
Review By:  Siou Choy
Developer:   Square
Publisher:   Square EA
# of Players:   1
Genre:   RPG
ESRB:   Teen
Accessories:   Memory Card
Date Posted:   4-8-02

After the near-fatal dual misstep of the excerable (but beautifully rendered) Final Fantasy VIII and the disastrous boxoffice showing of Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within, Square has made a quick about-face, in a bold-faced attempt to bring back some of the feel of earlier, more successful entries in the Final Fantasy series with their final release for the Playstation per se, Final Fantasy IX. (Yes, everybody knows the series continues on that derelict ersatz Titanic, the PS2, but that’s a whole different animal). While this isn’t necessarily a bad idea (in and of itself), all this pandering and nostalgia brokering gets to be a bit too much. The overarching impression one gets is that Square is lazily pushing its anticipated audience’s buttons, dictating with test-marketed statistical precision exactly when and how the gamer should react. Just to nail the easiest target, let’s join Mr. Rogers (and Mr. Sakaguchi, and Mr. Takechi, and Mr. Suzuki) in the land of make-believe, and we can pretend we’re giving Square the reaction they were looking for with lame main character Vivi: "Oh look, it’s a ‘black mage’ like in the old Final Fantasy games. Isn’t he cute?" Of course, the more likely reaction is: "oh, come on…ORKO? Are they nuts?", but remember, kiddies: reality has no place here in the land of make-believe (which is where the designers of FF IX have been spending a lit-tle too much time, apparently…)

One of the more noticeable changes in FF IX is that rather than the standard 3 party members per fight (as in FFVII and FFVIII), your party has been upgraded slightly to four people at a time. In fact, it seems that nearly every character you encounter in the game will become a part of your group at one point or another! In the interest of not spoiling the game for any interested parties, let’s just say that bad guys don’t necessarily stay bad. It’s really absurd how almost nobody appears as a one-off encounter in this game. It must be all that animal magnetism and charisma Orko…I mean "Vivi" is giving off, drawing everyone to you, calling them to be your friends (sigh…).

Of course, beyond the innate absurdity of it all (and not even touching on how this new aspect was designed with those fans in mind who just hate it how they couldn’t pair up to fight with the myriad priests, wizards, and barkeeps of the prior FF games), there is a flipside to all this heartwarming universal kinship. Namely, with so many damn people crashing your party, you lose the intimacy of the traditional small-party system. So fans of the characterization (like my mushy-hearted self) shouldn’t expect much out of FF IX: with this big of a crowd, you don’t get to explore as much of some character’s personalities as you might like. But all you action-hounds don’t expect any mercy, either: because other characters get a bit too much time spent on them…

This time around, the skills (attacks, spells, etc.) characters acquire are not fixed, but dependent on which items they equip. Each character still has their own assigned set of abilities: two different characters might draw completely different abilities from the same item. Characters permanently acquire said abilities by filling the AP meter (accomplished, as usual, by winning battles – the difference being, this time you "see" how far you have to go to reach the next level/gain your next ability). You can then use these abilities by assigning crystals to them (sounds confusing, but you’ll get used to it).

For some unknown reason, Limit Breaks have been renamed as "Trances" in FFIX. Don’t ask me why, must have been an aesthetic decision. Regardless, it’s the same animal: walks like a duck, talks like a duck, smells like a duck, it’s a duck.

Likewise, Guardian Forces have been recast as "Eidolons". Thankfully, we’ve been spared from sitting through endless (if pretty) animations each time the Eidolons are summoned (somebody must have screamed after the tedious, half-hour-apiece fights of FFVIII). While we still get to see the pretty animations when the Guardian F…ahem, "Eidolons" are summoned for the first time, we get treated to mercifully brief versions each time thereafter.

One crappy holdover from FFVIII is the card game Tetra Master, which I am grateful to admit has been relegated to true mini game status this time around. Unlike FFVIII where you were encouraged to endlessly play a tedious Pokemon knockoff to covert the cards into desirable items, there seems to be no purpose to Tetra Master: you don’t seem to get anything for it. So if you’re an addictive personality whose jones du jour is bad RPG style card games, you can wank off for hours flipping cards aimlessly against virtual opponents. The rest of us are allowed (again, unlike FFVIII) to find something better to do with our time…like staring at a wall in an empty room, or watching network television (which approximates to being roughly the same action).

Series standbys the Moogles (or Mogs, if you prefer) make their return in FF IX. Not only do they serve as save points, but each has its own little side quest associated with it. Here’s the scoop: the Moogles are part of the Mognet: essentially a place where they pass letters back and forth. In keeping with the great (and increasingly more noticeable) tradition of the US Postal Service, they don’t actually do any deliveries; leaving that task to your own little self. So to help out the Moogles (or at least to get your damn mail delivered in a timely fashion, a skill our friends in the USPS have apparently forgotten), you have to deliver their letters for them all over the world. Unfortunately, the little buggers don’t like to stay in one place too long so you may have to hunt them down and show no mercy (just kidding).

Speaking generally, when it comes to graphics, FF IX can’t be beat. The backgrounds are beautiful; FMV done perfectly - even cut-scenes and Active Time Events (ATE) look great. That said, there are a few too many of them – while VII and VIII boasted a distinct overreliance on their (admittedly impressive) animations, Square’s designers were clearly wanking off on this one. But that’s nothing: the real problem with FF IX is its awful character designs. While Square pitched this as their attempt to bring back the super-deformed look of earlier games, the result is less than desirable. The problem likely lies with the incompatibility of 3D character meshes with FF’s 2D origins. When designers try to mix the two, we wind up with characters that look more like mutated kids than the 2D super-deformed models they are reaching for. While I enjoy the cutesy look of the FF series up to and including VII, when given the alternative, I’d opt for the more "adult" look of FFVIII, hands down.

The Final Fantasy series has weathered several changes through the years; some good, some bad - but one thing remains constant: those damn RANDOM BATTLES!!!! I don’t mind a fight here and there, but when this exhausts half the playing time (or worse), it really starts to piss me off. There were a few points where I almost quit the game in disgust, because I kept winding up in fights (literally by the dozen) during simple exploration or presumably uneventful travel to the next proscribed destination. Everybody knows it’s going to happen, but there really is no excuse for so many non-story related fights in this, or any other game.


  • Very pretty, if uncomfortably Disney-esque graphics
  • To paraphrase the great Nipsey Russell: it sure ain't great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than (FF) 8 !!!


  • Far too many random battles. Somewhat absurdly, these little time-killers manage to take up at least half of gameplay (and with pre-rendered animations taking up more than their fair share, this leaves the game somewhat more of a no-brainer than its esteemed predecessors).
  • The card game Tetra Master. Not merely an unwelcome holdover from the pomposity of VIII, there seems no real point to it whatsoever. Unless, of course, you’re a Magic the Gathering type, in which case, you’ll probably spend mindless wasted hours at it…
  • Lame character designs. Just seeing the cover of the game should be enough to turn the average consumer away. And really, now - Orko the wizard as a main character? Does anyone out there really harbor fond memories of Filmation’s dunderheaded sissy He-Man?


All failings in regards to character design aside, Final Fantasy IX excels in comparison to the beautifully designed, but action-deficient misstep of VIII. Taken in light of its predecessor, FF IX represents a slight, if welcome return to some of the most important aspects of the Final Fantasy series, and a deliberate attempt to regain the sense of adventure and fun lost therein. While decidedly imperfect, FFIX makes a fitting conclusion to the Final Fantasy series’ tenure on the Playstation.

Overall Score: 7.0

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