Review by Cyril

""Bring the series back to the roots"? Give me a break!"

Final Fantasy IX. It supposedly brought the series of Final Fantasy ''Back to the roots''. I have to say that is a boast, and a false claim. This game does not bring the series back to the roots, it brings the series downhill.

The only things that bring Final fantasy IX back to the series' roots are the fantasy backgrounds, which not everyone likes, but most do. The only other thing they bring back is a 4 person party, and the fact that you change characters horribly often. The latter is one of the huge problems the games in the earlier part of the series had, because it made only certain characters get developed well. The characters are then left with maybe 3 or 4 that are actually developed to the point you actually care for them.

Final Fantasy IX starts bad. You watch the movie of a young woman staring by a castle window, and then the screen pans all over the huge city and castle below her. The detail in these CG movies is astounding, and they are very well directed. The characters move and act real. After the screen pans, you se a little boy running across the streets. This little boy, a Black Mage (you will know this is you have played any previous Final Fantasy game) is obviously clumsy and bumbling young boy. When he looks up from where he has fallen, he sees a huge airship flying above him, and the title Final Fantasy IX comes up.

The rest of the story in Final Fantasy IX starts out very slow. Your main character is named Zidane. He is a thief in the group ''Tantaulus''. The story in Final fantasy IX doesnt actually get going until the end of the second disk. It is THAT slow. After that the game focuses on the problems the mind has. Confusion, depression, and existence. It actually dives quite deep into a few characters, and each character has their own personal delema they need to solve. Of course, there is a character like Quina who has almost no effect on the story whatsoever, but there are others. By the end of the game most characters' problems are very deep and most are not cleared up, but they have at least found a good state of mind.

The story is by far the best part of Final Fantasy IX. Everything else in the game is just average, mediocre at best. Only about 4 of the characters are actually developed well, but the other characters are not badly developed. They just aren't developed onto the level of the others. Everything else in the game is overly simplistic.

What is it with Square lately? they have gone totally mainstream with their Final Fantasy games. This game is actually easier then Final Fantasy X, if that is possible. There are only maybe 2 battles in the game that are remotely difficult. And those are the optional battles. Hell, there is even a ''Auto-regen'' spell, if thats not cheap, I don't know what is! With some of the tricks the game allows you to do, you will never die. But if you die on the storyline of this game, you really need some help, because this is one hella simple game.

The battle system runs off AT, like most other Final Fantasy games, so there is really nothing innovative here. Its all the same. The Knights are slower, and the Thief is faster, White Mages are faster then black mages and every other cliche that is possible is exploited in the battle system of this game. Sadly, it also means the the females are exploited as the weaker magic users. Hey, this isnt fair! I'm a girl. I want strong female characters here! When a game actually does that, I will be stunned. The only real difference in Final Fantasy IXs battle system that differs from the last few games is the four character parties, something that hasn't happened since Final fantasy VI, and Summons. The summons themselves are weaker, obviously. But you dont always see the full animation. Square made a half-assed attempt to lower the length of battles by doing this, but it didnt work. Because for the full power of the Summons, you NEED to watch the full animation. This is basically making that feature worthless.

Final Fantasy IX, like VII and VIII before it, runs off the Pre-rendered backgrounds. For those of you who aren't technical people, pre-rendered means that the backgrounds were made, and the characters were then placed on them. This leads to beautiful backgrounds, while the characters look rather blocky, and choppy. But it also doesn't make you worry about camera angels, which Final Fantasy IX does well in. I admit, the backgrounds in Final Fantasy IX are beautiful, but that doesn't mean the entire game is. All the backgrounds look alike. they all have the same ''feeling'' to them. They don't feel very exotic. And there is maybe one area in the game that isn't like this. It is really a shame.

The characters are animated well. They don't break very often, but they are not the clearest. For a PSX game, the characters are actually quite beautiful. Some of them are a bit odd, though. Like Dagger has her clothes a little too tight, and you can see her curves a little too well. But my personal favorite action has to be Zidane hanging from his tail on the roof. There is a lot of detail in the characters, but they don't really seem to match the entire world around them.

The normal gameplay in Final Fantasy IX has also been watered out. You actually don't have to search for items, as there will be an icon that flashes when you get near one. If this game isnt meant for beginners, I don't know what is. What ever happened to good old searching for items? The card game has also changed dramatically. In Final Fantasy VIII, the card game was fun, and actually effected the way you played the normal game. But in Final Fantasy IX, it does neither. The game itself is basically random, and claims to be more like ''Battling''. But in Final fantasy IX, if it was like battling, wouldnt that mean you should win all the time? And then the game does not have anything to do with the game, except for one part you are required to play, it doesnt do anything for you. You cant get good items from rare cards. Its just a side-quest that is supposed to be entertaining, but isn't.

One part of Final fantasy IX I must commend is the music. The music is gorgeous, and most of the time, fits the area around you. Like the clumsy knights get their own theme, that is clumsy in itself. And a younger character gets a rather happy song, but somewhat serious, because she has a rather sad history. There are a wide variety or songs that mix the main theme, Melodies of Life into it. Melodies of Life itself is a gorgeous song, who's words actually represent the game as a whole. Some of the music is only okay though, as you only listen to some tracks once. And a lot of the times, those are the very best tracks. Each track in the game is memorable, and beautiful in its own right. This is actually the first video game OST I bought, because the music may actually be better then Final Fantasy VII's.

One of the parts I hate about Final Fantasy IX is it's basic skill system. The entire system is easier then Final Fantasy VI's, which was also very basic. Each item has certain set skills, and when a character equips an item, they may be able to learn the skills from the item. There are attack and defense skills, each with their own uses. These skills are learned by points you get from fighting battles, much like the ABP in Final Fantasy V, and the Magic in Final Fantasy VI.

Final Fantasy IX is host to a slew of mini-games. Some of these Mini-games are fun, most are not. They can become very boring and tedious fast. Things such as beating the game within 12 hours just for a sword, and racing a hippo can be almost impossible because of the sheer difficulty and annoyance the game wishes to give you. While the normal game of Final Fantasy IX isnt hard, these damned mini-games can become hell. A normal player probably won't actually be able to do some of them, and even advanced players will have trouble. Some of the mini-games, even for master Final Fantasy players will be hell. They can be completely unrewarding as well. Like who is going to jump-rope 1,000 times in a row just to get a key item that does nothing for you in the long run? There are also other, fun side-quests, such as the Stellazio quest, in which you have to search for the 12 Stellazio's in the world.

The only real NEW feature Final fantasy IX holds is the ability to see movies about what other characters are doing. Every once in a while, you will see a button on the bottom of the screen, and you can then press ''Select'' and choose to watch a movie. These movies give some story, and sometimes reward you with items. Sometimes it is fun to see movies about what your friends are doing in the city when you are running around doing your own objectives.

Lastly, Final fantasy IX is VERY linear until the third disk. Your characters are chosen for you, and you can only use them until the game chooses to allow you to use other characters. I hate this! If you like having your own party, then you probably wont like this game. But the best thing about this is the fact that linearity and challenge go hand in hand. An easy game that is linear is far more balanced then a hard game that is linear.

All in all, Final Fantasy IX is an average game with some high points. If you are a die-hard Final Fantasy fan, you may find this old. It is actually quite different from the other games in the series, especially with it's sheer ease. This game doesn't bring the series back to the roots, it insults the series' roots.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 06/22/03, Updated 06/22/03

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