We’ve looked at the art direction.Mused over the gameplay mechanics and history over the course of the series. Now we’re in the meat of what truly makes or breaks a Final Fantasy title — story, characters and themes. Role-playing games are everything it says on the tin, designed from the ground up to create an emotionally moving experience supplemented by brilliant design and tactical gameplay mechanics. Some of the most damning reviews I ever read concerning RPGs growing up were generic storylines and forgettable characters. It didn’t even matter to me how fun it might be to play. If it couldn’t make me care, I just didn’t care!
What’s often the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Final Fantasy? The most blasé reply may include spiky hair, silly outfits and cheesy romance scenes. Another response may be ‘the most consistent inconsistent series the gaming world has ever known’. When it comes down to it, it’s frequently been the characters and the story that kept us up ’til two in the morning, inspired our craft and brought us to tears. Final Fantasy IX is an incredibly interesting entry in the series and one that takes you for a few twists and turns. This will be the most spoiler-y review, but I’ll be sure to mark them accordingly in case you want to experience this all for yourself (pro-tip: you totally want to).
Starting off with the story, I like to separate this title into two categories — the traditional and self-aware retread of classic, heartwarming fantasy in the first two discs and the ‘we got drunk and took one too many dares’ of the last two discs. While that’s more of a friendly ribbing than an outright criticism, this can prove a contentious detail depending on your preferences.
The Final Fantasy series has been around a long damn time. While it’s famous for being the face of turn-based battle systems, it has done its fair share of shaking up the formula on its still-continuing line of titles, spin-offs and crossovers. We’ve seen this toyed with in the more chess-like Final Fantasy Tactics, the MMO-inspired Final Fantasy XII and the actual MMO Final Fantasy XI and XIV. We’ve seen this all but tossed out entirely in favor of more spontaneous action-adventure gameplay like Kingdom Hearts and The Bouncer. Even still Final Fantasy XV is looking to shake things up with a more expansive open-world and dynamic, adventure-style gameplay. We won’t talk about Final Fantasy: All The Bravest.
Just like the games it has been a bumpy road full of twists and turns. Final Fantasy XII received a mixed response from some due to its putting greater emphasis on side quests and free movement, while Final Fantasy XIII was nearly a deal-breaker for long-time fans due to its extremely linear and hands-off approach to combat and exploration. That’s nothing to say of all the additional things you can do in the average Final Fantasy game, from playing complex card games in VIII to racing chocobos in VII. So, where does Final Fantasy IX fit into all this?
Despite countless playthroughs and fervent (if often disappointed) perusals of related media, my love for this title hasn’t calmed down whatsoever. The headrush of blissful memories and artistic admiration actually makes it hard to focus on anything else for a time. Heck, the trailer for the PC re-release alone was enough to bring me to tears. This game carved its way into my soul all the way back at the age of ten, when I was falling in love with RPGs in the characteristic wild abandon freefall that children often do when learning a new form of adoration. Where Final Fantasy VII first opened my eyes to the complexity of videogames and Final Fantasy VIII began to whet my appetite, Final Fantasy IX filled gaps I didn’t even know existed and proceeded to guide both my artistic hand and emotional perspective from then onwards to this present day.
We all have one of those games, the titles that mean so much to us mere words seem paltry and even insulting in their scope.
I had to visit an old game shop three times to get my hands on another copy. It’s located in the middle of nowhere in my bumfuck city-town, specifically designed for a niche market founded in nostalgia and lots of spare change. I don’t have a car, so these trips took a combination of bus transport and cautious trudging through stray dog-infested neighborhoods to find — and that’s if I was lucky enough to see a copy available when I got there! Even better is when I actually found my old copy from childhood tucked away in a forgotten moving box in my closet weeks later. Thanks to the recent and very overdue PC port, the average gamer won’t have to go through Hell and a half to play this title…though I won’t pretend for a second it wouldn’t be worth it. This three part series is going to explore the ins and outs of this underappreciated classic, from its visual and musical direction to its gameplay and character themes. Spoilers will be marked.
Where would science-fiction and fantasy be without its creatures? While by no means a checklist requirement, you’d be hard pressed to find a more apt visual representation for these genres spanning centuries and cultures and continents. From the dragons and mermaids of countless mythologies to modern incarnations like hobbits and wookies, mythical creatures have always been an emotional and visual shorthand for humanity’s imagination. The relatively recent art form of videogames aren’t any different — if anything, their unique quality as an interactive medium gives you an even greater range of emotional and artistic exploration. Some of my fondest memories as a child was running around as a purple dragon in Spyro and hanging out with frog-dinosaurs in Pokemon, after all, and I’m willing to bet you have a few of your own.
That’s why it’s a real kick in the teeth that so many of…