The next review in our Ranking Final Fantasy series will go over the last Final Fantasy released on the original playstation console. VII and VIII showed just what the Playstation was capable of and IX was the swan-song before the big jump to the PS2.
IX seemed to come right on the heels of VIII which many Final Fantasy fans were ecstatic about.
Here’s a look at the various box art the game released with.
Japan release box art.
When you’re a Final Fantasy game being released in Japan this is all you need for artwork.
NTSC (North American) art.
PAL box art.
IX also didn’t see an ‘International Version’ released. Those showed up again in later games in the series.
Queen Brahne of Alexandria has begun using highly-advanced magical weapons to terrorise neighbouring kingdoms. Her daughter, Princess Garnet, runs away from the castle and befriends a group of good-harted bandits lead by a skilled thief, Zidane, who intends to end the evil queen’s desire to dominate the world. Soon after embarking on their quest, they discover that the queen’s threats merely cover a far more sinister plot. For the sake of mankind, Zidane and his friends must put an end to the Queen’s reign before she and the evil forces that accompany her can carry out the deadly plan.
GG: I find the story a mixed bag. I like the subplot of Vivi finding out who he is and the escape to Lindblum sequence works really well. The story actually unfolds really well until Kuja gets involved. I found that villian to be one of the least convincing in any Final Fantasy game. It also feels like Square tried to micro manage the story a little too much. It’s not until disc 3 that you are able to have your full party available to you, if I remember correctly. That said the pacing of the story is actually pretty good and you are steadily advancing through new scenarios in new areas. Grade: B
ASM: I found the story to be more straightforward, especially compared to VIII and VII. In that sense people might think it’s a step backward, or more cliched, but I think at the time, it fit very well after the more modern age/high tech stories that we had seen before. It was solid, and I think from a fantasy viewpoint you could identify with the brash hero that Zidane was, or the somewhat father figure that Steiner wanted to be. Kuja was also a bit more clear cut than what we saw in VIII. Finally, the world building was done well, and I in general enjoyed the story as a whole. Grade: A minus
IX was similar to VII in that amongst the group of party members available to you, no two were alike. Each came from a different race or subgroup and each had their own jobs and skills unique to them. This made party balancing very important.
Zidane is a complete 180 from what we had in VII and VIII. Brash, cocky, and very confident that he is the hero of the story. A thief with a heart of gold, he reminds me very much of Locke from VI. – ASM
A black mage with an identity crisis, his back story lead to some memorable scenes and fights. – ASM
As annoying as his loyalty is at the start of the game it, Steiner does provide a lot of the humour that happens early on which helps set the mood. As the story progresses you start to like and appreciate him more.– GG
Garnet Til Alexandros XVII/Dagger
The heroine of the story, she goes from a sheltered, naive girl to a woman who fights for her beliefs. Also a summoner as well. – ASM
This is my favourite character from the game. I like her design, her personality, her dialogue and her fighting skills. She has a side story that really fleshes out her character and motivation. Unfortunately, she feels very underutilized. She disappears for a good chunk of the game only to reappear later on. – GG
Precocious and cute, Eiko is the other half of the two summoners in the game, along with Garnet, but primarily fills the healer role. I used her pretty regularly swapping with Garnet.
What to make of this character? She (?) is a Gourmand who acquires skills by eating enemies making her the blue mage of the group. Unfortunately, the trial and error of eating enemies can grow stale and as such she gets underused in most parties. – GG
Amarant is the last to join the party, a monk type character playing the lone wolf role. By the time he joined I already had my set party so I didn’t use him much. – ASM
The main antagonist of the story, Kuja was created to usher in Garland’s plan and comes across pretty ruthless. He is motivated by his own mortality, and is fairly clear cut in the story. – ASM
Favorite Character – ASM – Zidane. He was a breath of fresh air as a hero compared to VII and VIII.
Favorite Character – GG – Freya. Wish I could have used her more. She is pretty engrossing but disappears at a certain point.
Least Favorite Character – ASM – To me, IX had two characters that they didn’t need, Quina, as just nothing there that was likable at all, and Amarant who came too late in the story.
Least Favorite Character – GG – Amaran-something. Maybe it was the hair. As ASM said he came too late to be used properly despite having pretty interesting skills.
Character Grade by ASM – A minus
Character Grade by GG – B
The Battle System
Battles in IX consisted of four party members at a time, rather than three which is what VII and VIII offered. This along with the designated jobs/skills for each character made battles pretty tactical, particularly the boss fights.
GG: I found it to be like VII’s but with one additional party member which, in the end, doesn’t really change it all that much. You’re still flailing away with your weapon-carrying characters while casting magic with the casters. The specific classes for each character meant you’d have lots of options at your disposal during fights which was a breath of fresh air after VIII with its party members who were basically all the same. Grade: A minus
ASM: It’s classic Final Fantasy all the way. Homage to the original SNES games in style and set commands, and was solid throughout. Grade: A
The Character Levelling System
Characters leveled up by obtaining EXP of course but it was how they aquired new abilities which was the key to IX’s system. The equipment had skills which coud be learned after sufficient use in battle whereupon you could equip a new piece equipment and start learning that next skill. You also only had a certain amount of jewels that could be spread around between the skills and could only activate a certain amount at a time.
ASM: Leveling was classic Final Fantasy style, but abilities were the twist this time around with the AP system. While this made IX to be a little more grindy compared to VIII, it was more enjoyable in that it brought back that ability to power up your party with skills and what not. It felt more like VI to me, which I found actually quite enjoyable. Grade: A
GG: At its core this system is simple and works well though I actually didn’t understand it at first. You need to have the item equipped to gain AP during battles which meant that you would need to go out looking to fight. While progressing with the story it never seemed like you were learning skills quickly enough. You’d come across new equipment, and thus potential new skills, but you couldn’t or didn’t want to equip it because you weren’t yet finished with the previous equipment set. This meant that some grinding was involved. Grade: B
The Limit Breaks
Limit Breaks returned in IX but this time they were called Trance and characters in a Trance state grew powerful and had access to more attacks and spells.
ASM: Trance was an interesting twist on the limit break system, where each character would be able to do special commands for a short period of time, but the downside was that the build up itself was for the most part uncontrollable, which added a bit more of a random element to it. This means that you couldn’t always count on being able to use it as a last ditch effort on a boss. Grade: B minus
GG: Square had a good thing going with the LBs with VII and VIII which they completely ruined in IX. Your Trance gauge would build up during the course of the battles in the game however you didn’t have the option of when to go into Trance. Instead the character would automatically do so regardless of the situation. Many times your party would be one strike away from killing a low level enemy and one of your characters would go into Trance mode just to land one blow completely wasting its effectiveness. That just kills it for me for the Limit Breaks. Grade: C
In IX summons were called Eidolons however they could only be used by two of your party members, Dagger and Eiko.
ASM: Eidolons returned to classic Final Fantasy style as being a type of magic that only two characters used. With that in mind, they were fairly standard, aside from some new ones like Atomos. More impressive were the way they were used in the story, especially Alexander. Grade: B plus
GG: Being limited to only two characters, who also happened to be needed for healing, meant Eidolons didn’t see as much action in battle as they did in the previous two games. When they did arrive, however, they did look pretty spectacular. They also turn out to be, much like in VIII, a big plot point in IX. Grade: B plus
Mini-Games, Sidequests, and Extras
Being a Final Fantasy game, IX was also filled with various mini-games and sidequests. Square also carried over the card game into IX but this time it was called Tetra Master and featured all new rules. And Chocobos.
GG: Tetra Master was a terrible attempt at Triple Triad and actually turned me off the game somewhat right at the very beginning. And I know there was a chocobo-riding thing but I never spent much time on it. I did chase frogs around the pond with Quena. I can’t recall it being fun. However, it’s possible there were some good sidequests that I never really knew about. Why is that? Because the Strategy Guide for IX sucked! Instead of just giving you the information for everything, for some areas they suggested you go to Square Enix’s website to get it. WTF? Ya, those web pages have all been taken down. Good luck new players. Grade: C
ASM: As sacrilegious as this may sound, I actually enjoyed Tetra Master more than Triple Triad. I played the heck out of this and got most of the cards if I recall. I also played Chocobo Hot and Cold all the way through. On the other hand, I never did the frog stuff because I never used Quina… Grade: B
Most Memorable Moment
GG: The airship chase through South Gate. Vivi throws a mean fireball.
ASM: The summoning of Alexander. That whole sequence had me going nuts.
Moment we’d most like to forget
GG: About one hour into disc 1 when your party members start falling asleep one by one in the Ice Cavern. Oh no, are we really doing the Dream World again?
ASM: Quina and the swamp and pretty much anything with Quina.
ASM: My love of Final Fantasy really peaked around IX, and the soundtrack is up there for me too. Uematsu had music creation on the PS1 down pat, and I found Melodies of Life to be much more enjoyable than Eyes on Me. Some great tracks from IX include Vamo ‘allo Flamenco, Something to Protect, Not Alone, Silver Dragon just to mention a few. This was one of the last soundtracks I bought, and I still have it sitting at home. Grade: A
GG: Despite being possibly my least favourite Playstation Final Fantasy game even I have to admit that the soundtrack is fantastic. It completely captures the setting and feeling of the world in the game and the events happening on your screen. I love the track during the staged fight in the castle, Vamo ‘allo Flamenco, as well as the battle themes.
Like ASM mentioned in the VIII review, Uematsu was by then using lyrical songs as themes in his games and while I do think Melodies of Life is a good track I don’t think it had the same impact as Eyes on Me from VIII. It makes a good lullabye as well. Grade: A
GG: I’m going to get right to it and ask why IX is your favorite amongst the ps1 final fantasy games. What say you?
ASM: I think it was the homage to the roots of Final Fantasy. Having grown up with the series I loved VII and VIII ,yes, but it was the earlier games that actually had more of an impact on me. So the steampunk to classical fantasy was what really got me. And the main cast of characters, the first five or so, in my mind are really well done though I didn’t care for salamander and Quina.
The system was solid, the music was solid and I thought the story as a whole was good. Much clearer than VIII, and VII actually. Just a really solid RPG all around.
GG: Solid is one word that describes it well. I too was excited to see they were going back to an old style of Final Fantasy game though for some reason the game never really grabbed me the way the others did. Partly it was the timing. The PS2 released only a few short months after IX and, understandably, that took my attention away. There are other reasons I didn’t fall hard for it. I felt the battles were just too slow and the character level system a bit of a chore at times. Still it has something the other psx Final Fantasy games don’t.
ASM: Hmm I played through the Japanese again first so I had more leeway on time.
GG: Well, maybe I’m trying to make excuses for myself because if the game sucked me in like the others I would have played it more. I really loved the setting and, for the most part, the character designs, especially Vivi. I loved Zorn and Thorn.
I really enjoyed the humor they displayed in Steiner’s character but, for some reason, like VIII was for you, a good chunk of IX is forgettable for me.
ASM: Yeah, I can understand that completely.
GG: That’s why I was interested to hear what you had to say after mentioning that it’s your favorite. I thought maybe I missed something. I never felt the full Final Fantasy RPG experience when playing IX though I blame some of that on the terrible strategy guide that was released with the game.
ASM: Well I think it is more of where I was when it came out. It was right when I was taking a break from college trying to determine what I wanted to do. And while I muddled through VIII in Japanese IX is where I really tried as it was the point where I made the decision to study Japanese in school. I had kind of started down the path to Japan at that point so I was more aware of the Japanese marketing too. I had some of the Coca Cola figures and posters and all that.
And at the end of the day IX is for all intents and purposes the last “classic” final fantasy. From X onwards it changes.
GG: I would agree with the assessment of IX being the last of the classic Final Fantasy formula. I think it hit all the important points in that regard.
What did you think of Kuja as the villain?
ASM: I liked him and how he came about. The back story at the end worked well, and made him and zidane more personable I think.
GG: True. One of the things I felt detracted from the game was my lack of interest in Zidane at the start. With VII and VIII you were kind of hooked to the main protagonists at the outset. It took more time to relate to Zidane.
ASM: That is true. But when you think about it both Cloud and Squall were angsty and standoffish to begin with. Zidane was positive and happy go lucky from the start which was refreshing.
GG: True, though his character out of the gate was rather blunt and a womanizer. Which can make it difficult for some gamers to take a liking to him.
ASM: Hmm. I didn’t get that feeling so much. Straight forward and wants to be the hero is how I took it. Cocky.
GG: Fair enough. Interesting that square could design a character who is different things to different people. Overall I think the characters in IX are fairly well done. What about the other key areas of the game such as the battles? Does it give you that retro feeling like the characters did?
ASM: Yeah, it did. I liked the AP system and equipping items to earn skills. It was all very well tuned when you think about it.
GG: Fair enough. Sometimes I felt though that I was playing an homage to Final Fantasy rather than a new game in the series. Still the AP system was far less flawed then the magic junction system from the previous game. The addition of the exclamation point in the field screen meant you didn’t have to button mash your way through the maps which was a rather nice addition that found it’s way into the later games.
I guess Square did well to end the PlayStation run of games. Next up was a whole new game console and a whole new style of Final Fantasy.
ASM: Well I think IX is just that. An extremely well done and solid RPG built from the design know-how from the first two on the PS1, that while an homage yes, is an excellent way to finish out SQEXs era of excellent games on the PS1.
ASM: As I noted in our conversation, IX sits in a special place for me. For the most part, Square has done three Final Fantasy titles on a system before moving on, and in each case the third one on that system has been the sum of all that has come before. Such as it was with III and VI, I find it to be the same with IX as well. It is the last of the classic Final Fantasy games, and it felt like playing a SNES RPG but with better sound and graphics, with some great touches that remind you of the past games. For me as well, this is right where I was making the decision to official study Japanese in college, and could almost be considered one of the things that set me on my path today. I have very fond memories of IX, and easily call it the best of the three PS1 era titles.
ASM Final Grade: B plus
GG: Like VIII is for ASM, IX is the oft-forgotten Final Fantasy for me and I somewhat feel guilty about it. I remember playing PS2 games and feeling bad that I never finished IX on the ps1 so then going back and playing the entire game through so that I can be truthful when I say that I’ve completed every (single-player) Final Fantasy game. For the purpose of this review I dug out my US Playstation 2 and threw in the game and the only memory card I could find. On that memory card I found saves listing play times of 57 hours. I did play this game quite a lot, it seems, yet can’t remember it as fondly as the others. That said, I think I now appreciate this game more than I did when it first released. As we’ve mentioned, the characters are solid, the story more straightforward than in other games, the battle and character leveling systems easy to understand. One thing that makes it different from my beloved VIII is that this game is hard. You need to make sure you have the proper equipment, weapons, and supplies at all times otherwise you’ll find your progress stalled. Be warned. In the end, I suppose I just never got the full Final Fantasy experience with IX that I did with the games that came before, and after, and that’s not the game’s fault. Possibly that’s an indication of where I was in my personal life rather than my gaming life. It is a good solid RPG but when it comes to Final Fantasy, even if we’re only discussing the ps1 titles, it’s not my favourite.
GG Final Grade: B minus
Combined Final Grade: