This game completely deserves to sit at the big kids table with F
Lost somewhere in the shuffle of the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy IX had the unwanted privilege of coming out near the end of the PS1's life cycle and only days after the release of the PS2. Being pushed to the back burner by many players still doesn't take away from the fact that FFIX, in the end, is a great game for the series, the pinnacle of the FF series on the PlayStation platform, and easily one of the most well rounded "old school" turn based RPGs of all time.
The plot is straight out of the Square playbook as you play the story of Zidane, a thief traveling with a band of other thieves, disguised as a traveling acting troupe. Their initial plan is to kidnap the princess of Alexandria and make a fortune from the ransom. Needless to say this does not go as planned and Zidane will eventually run into, and form a party with, said Princess named Garnet (who has a secret), a thick headed knight named Steiner, a shy black mage named Vivi, a female dragon knight named Freya, an odd summoner named Eiko, an even more odd chef named Quina, and a fellow bull-headed thief named Amarant. Before it's all over Zidane becomes a reluctant hero, saves the world from the evils of baddie Fuja, and they run into more than a few Chocobos along the way.
The plot is really nothing to write home about, and it's quite similar to the plots of previous FFs, but this one has something that those others don't have quite as much of, real charm. The character designs and tone swerve away from those of games like FFVII and FFVIII. Out are the serious, more human-like, characters with their extremely brooding, dark, and emo look. In are the slightly deformed, one part anime/one part Toy Story characters, living in the bright, vibrant, sincere and funny world of Terra. If there is one thing that truly pushed me over the edge about this game it had to be the overall lightness in tone of FFIX. It still has that "gotta save the world from ultimate destruction" vibe running through it, but this time it does it with a wink, a smile, and an entire airship full of fan service.
The mechanics of the game are basically the turned based gameplay that FF is known for, but with a few new twists along the way. This time around things like spells and abilities are tied to the party's weapons. Certain weapons contain certain spells or abilities and those powers are unlocked by defeating enemies and collecting AP (ability points). There is also a new shop in this game called "synthesis" that lets you combined and meld old, unused weapons, armor, stones, etc. to make new and more powerful versions. This ends up being quite fun because it adds value to item purchases and because you know that, when you're finished with a certain weapon or armor, it will eventually serve a purpose in the game at the synthesis shop. I like this because it helped eliminate the need of running to a weapon/armor shop every time I entered a new town just to make some money to buy the next version. It made holding onto old weapons more worthwhile and meaningful.
I would also regret not mentioning the overall quality that comes with a game from this franchise. For an original PlayStation game I think I can confidentially say that FFVII may have been the first, and FFVIII may have been more technical, but FFIX is the most well thought out and best looking game of the three. It's as if Square took what was good about the first two PS FFs, looked at what people like about the ENTIRE franchise, and turned out this "jack-of-all-trades". It has more charm than any FF ever, it has the most cohesive art style of the three, and (my personal opinion) has the least intrusive, and most fun, side quests of the entire franchise.
Final Fantasy IX is the love letter to Final Fantasy fans of all stripes and the swan song to the PlayStation platform, where it can also be said that FF truly bloomed into the mega franchise it is today. If you past on this game because of the turbulent times of its release, go back and give this one another try, it's absolutely worth your time...and more importantly, if you're unsure about whether RPGs are for you and you're looking for one to take for a test drive, look no further. FFIX is the RPG for everyone and a real gem for the series.
+Great art direction
+Very likable cast of characters
+Fun, lighter tone for the series
+Is a very good 'fan service' game
+Great RPG for newbies
-Storyline is very safe and 'color by numbers'