Final Fantasy IX is the last of the PS1 installments of this well-known and adored series, and it continued to raise the bar for Final Fantasy titles in almost every category. Just recently, I was poking around in my local EB Games retailer and I came upon something I thought I would never see. A sealed copy of Final Fantasy IX for the PlayStation, albeit a Greatest Hits version. $25 later, I exited the store triumphantly and set off on this epic adventure for the very first time.
IX has to be one of the funnest games I have played in the last year. This installment continues with the ATB battle formula present in past games, and a new concept for ability-learning: you learn your special attacks and in-battle abilities by equipping a certain weapon which has the ability infused within it. After battle, you gain a small amount of AP (or Ability Points), and that goes towards the total you have for the equipped weapon. Once you max out the AP needed for the ability, you can use it at any time without equipping the weapon, and it goes on from there. The system is somewhat annoying though, because if you have an ability you want to learn, but also a new, more powerful weapon, you have to wait until you've gotten enough AP to use the ability without it's weapon.
Instead of Overdrives or the like, this time Square opted for a thing called a "Trance". Over the course of many battles, a gauge will fill up, and once it's full the character will go into a Trance. They take on a shiny/gold appearance and either have access to new powerful abilities, or gain much more attack. The only downfall of the Trance system is that it is basically random, as the bar fills far too slowly for you to accurately judge how many battles it will be before you enter it. You could have your Trance go off in the middle of a random battle, one fight before you face a boss, where you would really need it, and then it's another God knows how many battles until it will go off again. So essentially the Trance system is useless.
Out of battle you will traverse very nice pre-rendered maps. When an object on the map can be interacted with, a speech bubble with a "!" or a "?" will pop up and you can press X to activate that event. Usually there are treasure chests hidden out of view so that you basically have to cling along the walls and wait for a bubble to pop up in order to find them. Throughout the game there are many minigames that must be completed to advance the game, as well as a Card Game that feels very tacked on and in the end are completely pointless and annoying.
The story centres around a thief named Zidane, who along with his band of fellow thieves plot to capture the princess Garnet of Alexandria. It turns out that the princess wants to be kidnapped, and so together they try to escape the grasp of Garnet's mother, Queen Brahne, who has plans for taking over the continent that require Garnet. Final Fantasy IX has some of the most unforgettable characters of any RPG to date. Vivi with his constant tripping, Quina with his/her inability to compose a proper sentence, Steiner with his perpetual clinking of the armor, Garnet with her tight rubber sui- I mean emotional turmoil... they all brought great personality to the table that anyone could fall in love with.
I may be starting to sound like a broken record here, but once again it continues with the style set by the last few games, with pre-rendered environments out of battle. These allow for cities and dungeons that look far better than what could be accomplished with plain polygons. The characters themselves, along with anything that moves, are polygonal which in some cases causes them to look out of place with the surroundings. The most breath-taking part of FFIX graphically has to be the cutscenes. When a significant event takes place, the game cuts to a beautiful scene with rich colors, detailed characters and the smoothest animation you could possibly expect from the PS1. Sound-wise, it will blow you away with it's brilliantly composed battle theme, among others. Almost the only song I didn't enjoy thoroughly was the world map theme, which was uninspiring and lackluster.
This is the kind of game that you could definitely play more than once. The story doesn't get boring, and the battle system is kept interesting. FFIX's characters are amazing, vibrant and completely unforgettable. I don't think that I should have to tell you to play this again, you should be playing it of your own free will. In fact, why haven't you played it yet!?
If you can find this game like I did, at a local store, by all means pick it up. If you can't, there are always sites like eBay and Amazon where you can get it for cheap due to the overwhelming demand for Final Fantasy VII and nothing else. It's an experience for the ages that matches up great against any game, even today. I have a feeling that I'll be loving my purchase of it for a long time.