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History of Final Fantasy: Respecting the Past (Final Fantasy IX)

History of Final Fantasy: Respecting the Past (Final Fantasy IX) - Article

by Taneli Palola , posted on 22 December 2016 / 11,280 Views

By the late 90s Final Fantasy had very much established itself as a giant of the industry. It could count itself among the most successful video game franchises of all time. New releases in the series were more than just games by this point - they were events. The last two entries alone had sold a combined total of over 17 million copies on the PS1, helping the console become the de facto market leader with practically no serious competitors. Now it was just a question of following up on this success with yet another major franchise title.

What Square and Hironobu Sakaguchi gave us next was probably something of a surprise to many fans of the series, especially those who had only been introduced to it by the previous two entries. Gone were the technologically advanced worlds and sci-fi elements, in their place was a notably more traditional-looking fantasy world and story akin to earlier games in the series, at least on the surface.

 

End of an Era: Final Fantasy IX

 

The development of Final Fantasy IX began well before Final Fantasy VIII had even been finished, with Sakaguchi writing the early version of the game's scenario script in July of 1998. Final Fantasy IX was directed by Hiroyuki Ito, this marking his second time at the helm after previously directing Final Fantasy VI. Hideo Minaba handled the game's art direction, while also designing many of the character alongside several other people. This meant that for the first time since Final Fantasy VI Tetsuya Nomura played no part in character design.

Yoshitaka Amano once again provided numerous illustrations for the game, including its logo. As with every previous entry in the main series Nobuo Uematsu created the soundtrack for Final Fantasy IX. He spent roughly a year composing the score, ultimately finishing with around 160 different tracks, of which 140 made it into the final product. This still makes it one of his most extensive soundtracks to-date, comfortably eclipsing most of his past and future works in terms of sheer content.

It's ironic then that, originally, Ito asked Uematsu to compose just the bare minimum number of tracks for the game. Ultimately, however, Uematsu went on to spend an extended amount of time travelling around Europe during the game's development, searching for (and no doubt finding in abundance) inspiration for his score. He has since stated that his work on Final Fantasy IX is his favourite from his long career.

 

When Final Fantasy IX first entered development Sakaguchi intended it as something of a reflection and homage to the series' past. As the last game in the series to be released on the PS1 it was seen as an end of an era, one that would pay tribute to the series' now lengthy history before it entered into a new age with the advent of the next console generation.

Additionally, it wasn't initially envisioned as necessarily being the next main entry in the series, simply because it was such a huge departure from the previous games. Eventually, however, it was confirmed as the next main installment, and by early 2000 development was nearly finished. Final Fantasy IX was released on July 7, 2000, in Japan, later that same year in North America, and early the next year in Europe.

As already noted, Final Fantasy IX was a huge departure from what people had become used to from the series in the years leading up to its release. Many older elements not found in VII and VIII were brought back, and the overall design of the game was intentionally more cartoonish and unrealistic than in its immediate predecessors.

In addition to directing the game Hiroyuki Ito also designed its battle system, which was yet another iteration on the ATB system he had originally created for FF IV. It also featured another return back to the series' roots, reverting to a four-person party during battles. Another throwback is that each character represents a specific classic job from the series' past, such as a thief, black mage, dragoon, or summoner.

This was once again in great contrast to the last few Final Fantasy titles, which had featured highly flexible character development systems where each character's abilities and attributes could be developed in any way the player wanted. As a result, characters were much more specialized here than in the previous PS1 installments. Each had its own class specific abilities that only he or she could use. This makes the characters in Final Fantasy IX much more unique, not just in terms of the story, but also in battle, which is a quality the other PS1 titles often lacked.

 

Characters learn new skills by equipping a specific weapon or a piece of equipment. Each piece contains certain skills that can be learned from it, with many of them being character specific, such as Vivi's black magic or Freya's dragoon skills. Support abilities are more universal and are generally available for multiple characters.

Limit breaks also make a return, this time in the form of Trance. Each of the main playable characters has a meter that slowly fills as they damage. Once it is filled the character enters Trance, unlocking a new set of skills or improving already existing ones. Unlike before, this transformation cannot be controlled by the player; it will simply trigger whenever the meter fills up, regardless of the situation in battle. This means it can even trigger after all the enemies have already been defeated, making it a fairly unreliable gameplay mechanic.

There are some notable mini-games available as well. A card game called Tetra Master is one of them, although I've always though it is just an inferior version of FFVIII's Triple Triad. By far the most useful and extensive mini-game is Chocobo Hot and Gold, a treasure hunting mini-game where the player goes around the world looking for buried treasure with a chocobo. Many of the game's best weapons and items can only be acquired through it.

 

The narrative opens with a theater group called Tantalus arriving in Alexandria to perform a play in celebration of Princess Garnet's 16th birthday. However, the real intention of the group is to kidnap the princess. Of course, things don't go quite as planned, and it turns out Garnet actually wishes to be kidnapped.

In contrast with the slow pace of VIIIIX introduces many of its central characters and sets the plot in motion very quickly. Within a few hours the main mystery that drives the storyline is nicely set up, and the initial motivations of each key character have been well established. In general, Final Fantasy IX does a masterful job of relating each character's personality, motivations, and way of thinking to the player. I can't think of a single other game from this era where the way a character walks and runs manages to convey so much of what they are like, from Vivi's swaying walk to Steiner's stiff movements.

 

The story and characters are among the series' best. Every character has a purpose and an arc they go through, and they genuinely change and develop as events unfold. Zidane is among my favourite main characters in the entire series. The fact that he is actually a positive, upbeat character after two overly serious, broody protagonists is a huge breath of fresh air. In addition, the game has what I consider to be one of the best main villains in the series.

Final Fantasy IX also introduces a new story mechanic called Active-Time Events. These are small, optional scenes the player can view at specific points in the game. They often give insights into a character's thoughts and actions, showing what they are doing when alone or away from the main party the player is controlling. They are an excellent addition to the game, as they provide plenty of room for secondary characters to develop and grow, and of course they give the player more insight into many of the game's key events.

 

Visually, Final Fantasy IX is absolutely gorgeous. An argument could even be made that it is the best-looking PS1 game ever made. The character models are impressively detailed and vibrant, and the pre-rendered backgrounds had never looked better. Most backgrounds also contain some moving elements like flags, smoke, or other small details that make the world seem alive. In terms of visual design, I don't think the Final Fantasy series has ever looked as good as it did here. The world simply looks amazing, with each location and area having its own style and feel that makes it memorable.

The FMV cutscenes are also some of the most impressive I've ever seen in any video game. Their scale and design is awe-inspiring, especially those featuring the game's summons, this time called Eidolons. The developers also once again used the trick where the game seamlessly transitions from gameplay into a cutscene and back, but it is here that they truly perfected the technique, before unfortunately abandoning it and using polygonal backgrounds starting with FFX.

 

One of Final Fantasy IX's major themes was the exploration of the meaning of life and death. This can be seen in the storylines of many of the characters and locations in the game, with an actual tree of life, an entire dying world, and the cycle of souls being key parts of the story. This is another aspect that really gives Final Fantasy IX its unique identity, and so even as the title intended to pay respects to the series past it still became its own creature.

 

The Best Part

 

The characters. Even with this entry featuring my favourite story, soundtrack, and visual design in the entire series, it's still the characters that make this game so memorable as far as I'm concerned. The main cast is fantastic, the villain is among the series' best, and the supporting cast is filled with memorable and fleshed out characters.

Every major character develops and changes over the course of the game, going through a distinct story arc that impacts them in fundamental ways. Additionally, thanks to their well written and defined personalities, when they go through such changes it actually affects the game's story as well.

 

The Worst Part

 

There's nothing really bad about Final Fantasy IX, just a number of smaller annoyances. The new limit break system isn't very well designed thanks to its uncontrollable nature, Tetra Master is too vague in its instructions to be enjoyable, and learning abilities from equipment can mean that if you missed an ability earlier you may have to return back to using an inferior weapon or other piece of equipment later in the game, which can be quite frustrating.

Still, perhaps the biggest issue for me is that it's actually too easy. Even the game's most difficult superboss is notably easier to defeat than its counterparts in most other entries in the series, although there are some decently challenging fights and sections, especially if you're playing Final Fantasy IX for the first time.

 

Does Final Fantasy IX Still Hold Up?

 

Yes, without question. To me personally this is the peak of the entire series. What few small weaknesses it has are entirely negligible and easy to disregard thanks to everything that is great about the game. Final Fantasy IX is often regarded as a game that kind of went unnoticed between three of the series' biggest ever releases, but in my opinion it is better than any of them.

Visually it is still beautiful over 15 years after its release, even with all the limitations of the PS1. The backgrounds are vibrant and colourful and in general the game is filled with thousands of tiny details that make it look impressive even today. The character models still hold up, and as already mentioned the FMV sequences are absolutely stunning.

 

The music is of course excellent, as is to be expected from Nobuo Uematsu. His score for Final Fantasy IX definitely ranks among his best. It had a very different feel to much of his work on VI, VII, and VIII, which all had darker, more sinister undertones. IX in contrast is much warmer and features many callbacks to the earlier Final Fantasy games, with many tracks from these titles being rearranged for the soundtrack.

The ATB system was slightly reworked again and saw the return of elements that its immediate predecessors had discarded. As a result it comes off as bit of a strange mix of old and new, but overall I'd say it's a good system that's fun to use, it just doesn't quite have the same level of complexity that VII and VIII's systems had.

One welcome change was the addition of a fourth character to the battle party. This gives the player a lot of additional tactical options in battle, and makes the combat much more varied as well. The frequency of the random battles was criticized, but I only found them to be an issue in a few specific places in the game, where the high number of battles starts to become very frustrating.

The characters are very well written and sympathetic. The writing in general is also very good and can often be genuinely funny, a trait which also extends to the characters themselves. While the core narrative does reuse many familiar storyline elements from older Final Fantasy games, it puts its own twist to them, which allows them to still feel fresh and sufficiently different.

Getting the game is probably easier now than it has ever before been. Not only is the original version available on PSN, but Final Fantasy IX was also rereleased on Steam and mobile with various updates earlier this year. The updated version was given various graphical improvements and various other changes, but both versions are equally viable.

Final Fantasy IX is perhaps one of the series' less talked about entries, but it more than holds up in comparison to other entries in the series. While I understand that its drastic departure from the previous two entries can turn people away from Final Fantasy IX, I still strongly recommend playing it. It's a very different experience compared to other Final Fantasy titles, but as far as I'm concerned it's a superior one.

 

Fun Fact

With Final Fantasy IX being intended as a reflection on the entire series up to that point in time, it features a large number of allusions and references to previous games in the series. Here are a few of the more notable ones:

  • One of the game's main antagonists is called Garland, which also happened to be the name of Final Fantasy I's main villain.

  • To acquire Ramuh, the player must recount the tale of a man named Josef to him. Josef's story is taken almost directly from the events of Final Fantasy II.

  • One of Freya's most powerful weapons is Kain's Lance. Kain was of course one of FF IV's main characters.

  • During the play `I Want to be Your Canary´, Marcus says the following line: “No cloud, no squall shall hinder us!” The reference here should be quite obvious. 

Additional Sources:
- Wikia


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52 Comments

BraLoD (on 22 December 2016)

Without a single doubt the best from the PS1 era, FF VII success and recognition should have gone to it instead, not that FF VII doesn't deserve it, it's also a great game, really, but FF IX is simply a masterpiece, it should be THE refference for the franchise, even as I still consider XII my favorite, because it was so immersive and fun to play, FF IX is the most complete and well rounded game, every JRPG fan should definitely play it.


Azuren (on 22 December 2016)

It's my last favorite. I've never given a game as many chances as I gave IX... And it failed to impress. I got halfway through disc two before I finally decided I'd had enough and traded it in.


  • -3
BraLoD (on 22 December 2016)

FF IX was the only one to please me from the get go, and it just got better while going on. I usually don't like much the first hours of FF mainline games, but FF IX... pure magic.
I was genuenely sad when I finished it, because I didn't want to stop playing, at all.


  • +4
Sagemode87 (on 22 December 2016)

Outside of the characters, what's so good about 9? The battle system was a step back compared to 7 and 8. After doing Lionheart in Ff8, doing a limit break in 9 seems so tame. Abilities being attached to weapons wasn't cool either.


  • 0
DonFerrari (on 27 December 2016)

I only disagree with your liking for FF XII


  • 0
BraLoD (on 27 December 2016)

That's only 'cause Yazmat trashed you!


  • +1
DonFerrari (on 03 January 2017)

I didn't finish the game out of boredom, but until the part I had gone, no difficult was found.


  • 0
think-man (on 22 December 2016)

Greatest Final Fantasy ever made :)


Kinneas14 (on 22 December 2016)

Well said, Blank


  • +1
Dyllyo (on 22 December 2016)

It's been my favorite since it came out. It was received horribly at the time, but it's cool to see how big of a cult following it has now.


  • +1
Ka-pi96 (on 22 December 2016)

I started with 7 and it still didn`t seem at all strange to me. Was just a fantastic game, one of the best ever actually. Oh and Tetra Master not enjoyable? Those be fighting words!


Darashiva (on 22 December 2016)

Tetra Master can be fun, it just requires quite a lot of effort to really understand how it works and what the numbers and letters on the cards actually mean.


  • +1
DonFerrari (on 27 December 2016)

I remember being quite good at it and having all the good cards at a point.


  • 0
fluky-nintendy (on 24 December 2016)

They don't make games like this anymore. Last one I remember to vaguely giving me an immersion like this was Dragon's Dogma (if only it had good characters). But good times, I can always pick this game up and it feels just like the first time.


Firefoxie (on 26 December 2016)

Sadly they don't, but I sure wished they did like this. I miss this game. Maybe I'll go and play it soon.


  • 0
Firefoxie (on 26 December 2016)

*they did make them like this.

Sorry poor grammar


  • 0
ClassicGamingWizzz (on 22 December 2016)

FF7 > FF8 > FF9 But all great games, all too me are 10/10 games, i just liked ff7 and 8 a bit more , all 3 in my top 10 of all time. Make FF great again !!!


Wright (on 22 December 2016)

Great game. Not my personal favourite game from the franchise (that'd go to FF VIII), but I'd put it on the Top 5. It has some really amazing ideas underlying in it. The skill-learning system from equipment adds plenty of variety and allow you to customize people with all sort of things, even stepping down stats in trade for an awesome ability to get. The cast is really varied and I think everyone is very likeable (my favourite being Steiner), even if some, like Amarant, don't really get much development at all. Despite being relatively easy, it's a long, fun game and you can do plenty of things in it. The only flaws I can put on it are Tetra Master, which is a terrible minigame with totally randomized battle results (which void any sense into having card stats in the first place), and the lost momentum in Disc 4, with some really weird narrative choices made that mist up a bit everything that came prior, topping it off with a final villain that comes out of nowhere and makes almost zero sense, and only serves as a plot device to give the other final villain and interjection and some sort of pity redemption. Truly a great game, that concluded what's for some the Golden Age of Final Fantasy, the PS1 games.


Myhem33 (on 23 December 2016)

With no doubt final fantasy 9 is the perfect game it doesn't need anything to be changed


Sagemode87 (on 22 December 2016)

I think 9 is the most overrated in the series. The battle system was a big step back compared to 7 and 8. Sure the story and characters was cool, outside of that I don't see why this one gets so much praise.


bartkuz (on 23 December 2016)

Yes VIII had the best battle system - just keep squall near death and spam limit breaks :D these is also the perfect draw mechanic


  • +1
bartkuz (on 22 December 2016)

It's my favorite FF game. In fact it was my first FF game and my first jrpg overall(and I love jrpgs), so you can guess what kind of impact it had on me.


zedo0 (on 24 December 2016)

Superb way to entry the RPG genre.


  • +1
zedo0 (on 24 December 2016)

Superb way to entry the RPG genre.


  • 0
fluky-nintendy (on 24 December 2016)

I was lucky too, I lost my virginity to this one as well.


  • +1
Keybladewielder (on 22 December 2016)

I played FFIX for the first time this year and I completely adored it. The characters are all so memorable (yes, even queen (or king?) Quina), Vivi is one of my favorite characters ever and Zidane is my favorite FF protagonist. The plot was really interesting and it got a lot of memorable moments. I love the setting and art direction and the graphics still look surprisingly good. The soundtrack, of course, is good. The combat is kinda slow but that didn't bother me. And dat ending, it's one of my favorites ever.


Okie_Loki (on 22 December 2016)

Yep, have to agree with think-man and BraLoD here. Not only the best from the PS1 era, but in my biased opinion, still the best FF I've played. I've been searching for why this game stands out to me, other than it being my first official FF introduction. And I think you nailed it: the CHARACTERS. They are all beautiful and each had their own personality. Even Steiner or Adamant I felt for throughout the game... Even Quina as well! And how can I forget little Vivi in his quest for knowing where he came from??? IX had everything an all time classic adventure story needed: playful romance, strong bonds that grew between the characters, more than one overarching story, etc. It truly was a masterpiece.


Azuren (on 22 December 2016)

I found the characters to be the single weakest point of the entire game.


  • -1
zedo0 (on 24 December 2016)

My absolute all time fav Final Fantasy. It would take a very special entry in this series to change my stance.


hokido (on 23 December 2016)

Just finished replaying FFIX for the millionth i wish it was a remake of this rather than VII.


Dyllyo (on 22 December 2016)

Also: FREAKING VIVI!


tonio_13 (on 22 December 2016)

A true masterpiece and thé Best game ever for me. You have to be blind to not see the greatness of this game.


V-r0cK (on 22 December 2016)

Still the best FF I've ever played. It really has everything you'd want in a JRPG.


Yunta (on 28 December 2016)

I started playing this game on the ps1 like 15 years ago, unfortunately never got past the 1st disc, I have to find the time to go back and finish this masterpiece. Great article, keep'em coming.


Darashiva (on 28 December 2016)

I will. Currently writing the next one about Final Fantasy X. I'm glad to hear you like them.


  • 0
holmen (on 23 December 2016)

Truly excellent game, 10/10. Every time I see the opening cinematic and thinking its running at a ps1 I'm blown away. And every time I hear "You're not alone" I get something in my eye.


Dyllyo (on 22 December 2016)

This and VI are easily my favorites. Zidane was such a unique, fun protagonist, ESPECIALLY compared to how angsty and brooding Cloud and Squall were.


Kuksenkov (on 22 December 2016)

I'll always appreciate Vivi because he has a whole lot of drama going on for him. I usually hate weakling characters or over the top drama in RPGS, but Vivi is probably the only exception. He truly was a strong little guy, and he set that hoe Garnett on fire, which I'll always appreciate. The fact that I don't dislike the love interest just speaks of how awesome the characters are! Usually I hate healing staff wearing hoes that do nothing but distract the hero from saving the world, but she was interesting in some ways. The rised eye brow goes to Zidane though; that little "she's the ONLY THING I CARE ABOUT even though we met three days ago" speech was cringe worthy.


DonFerrari (on 27 December 2016)

He only had males in his party and were programmed by the creator so perhaps his mechanisms of love are fucked.


  • 0
DonFerrari (on 27 December 2016)

My favorite Final Fantasy, deeply in love with it to this day. I'm eager for its remake to play it on current gen graphics, because the beuty of it was the first part that hooked me hard.


Ostro (on 26 December 2016)

The soundtrack was fantastic and diverse, not just "different" or "warm" watch YT skTmFpZV9hY


Ostro (on 26 December 2016)

The soundtrack was fantastic and diverse, not just "different" or "warm" https://youtu.be/skTmFpZV9hY


Ostro (on 26 December 2016)

The soundtrack was fantastic and so diverse, not just "different" and "warm" https://youtu.be/skTmFpZV9hY


Comments below voting threshold

Azuren (on 22 December 2016)

Awful character design, awful story, awful script, awful villain...


ClassicGamingWizzz (on 22 December 2016)

Lmao


  • +3
  • -5
Wright (on 22 December 2016)

What exactly is so awful about the story and script, aside from the shenanigans of Disc 4?


  • 0
  • -5
think-man (on 22 December 2016)

Lol complains about it then when questioned says he can't remember xD metacritic rates this as the highest FF, the creator calls it his favourite, its a homage to the Final Fantasys before it and most fans tend to rate it as their favourite. Maybe if you had a valid argument then we can talk pros and cons. You complain but offer no substance, try "remember" then return please.


  • +2
Azuren (on 22 December 2016)

Well, I would just add that to it's list of problems: it's not memorable. I would offer substance... If it had any. You've got a rabid fanbase that just wants to make Vivi their waifu, the FF creator saying he likes it because it's more like his original stuff (so vain~), and most fans rate VI or VII as their favorite.

But hey, at least your avatar is one of the only three good character designs in the game.


  • -4
Darashiva (on 22 December 2016)

I don't really mind differing opinions, so if you don't like the game that's perfectly fine. Still, everything you said was awful about the game is in my opinion easily among the best stuff the series has ever produced.


  • +1
  • -5