frantic's Final Fantasy XI Online: The Vana'Diel Collection 2008 (PlayStation 2) review

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FF series is becoming old...

The Final Fantasy series is old and tired. Each new installment is an exerise in boredom as Square takes the same old game and dresses it up in new graphics.

With that said, I had a surprisingly good time with Final Fantasy 9. It is still quite tedious in spots and has most of the same faults of the rest of the series. None the less, Final Fantasy 9 does manage to capture some of the old fun from way back when the series was still a bit creative.

It is a real pity that Square had to move *backwards* to accomplish this, but you do what you need to do. It is an even greater pity that the next game, Final Fantasy 10, holds the dubious distinction of being the Final Fantasy game that unseated Final Fantasy 7 as "worst ever". It seems that Square has truly lost their edge, and that the fun of Final Fantasy 9 was merely a fluke.

Criticism aside, Final Fantasy 9 *is* a breath of fresh air in a dull and decrepit game series. The plot is utterly typical: small band of adventurers travel to save the world. Where it departs from the standard is the main character/hero, Zidane, who is a bandit, as well as a braggart and a womanizer. What? No moody yet noble swordsman seeking to atone for past misdeeds in service to the villain? Square! You actually thought outside the box for a change! I didn't know you had it in you!

The other characters, while mostly typical, add to the old-school fun. For instance, the white and black mages are pulled quite directly from Final Fantasy 1. The white mage even wears a white cloak with red trim for a little while...until the black mage accidentally sets it on fire. This humorous reference to the old Final Fantasy games is subversively subtle.

All in all, Final Fantasy 9 is the best Final Fantasy game to come along in quite a while. It is plagued by most of the same faults as the rest of the series, but it manages to entertain despite them. Because of its flaws, I would hesitate to recommend this game to anyone. However, I believe that it was worth my time and money.


The sound, on the other hand, is average at best. It is nothing more than the usual Final Fantasy fare, no different from the other Playstation Final Fantasy games. Indeed, some of the music and most of the sound effects are pulled quite directly from earlier games.

There are a few pieces of music that really are good, even so. A couple piano pieces in particular are really quite catchy.


The area where Final Fantasy 9 really gets dragged down is the gameplay. This game is typical Final Fantasy. That is to say, tedious and slow.

As is the way for most RPGs in general, and Final Fantasy in particular, the random monster battles make up a huge portion of the game. Even in the best RPGs, this gets more than a little boring. The Final Fantasy series exacerbates this problem by making the fights move very slow. They take forever to load at the start, take forever to get through, and then take forever to wind down and return to the map.

Final Fantasy 9 is no exception. If anything, the battles are even worse this time around, taking even longer to load and play through than in previous games. This is particularly irritating at certain points of the game, when you have a clock ticking and need to hurry through as fast as you can.

However, there is one saving grace to the battle system. The characters all have differing skills. Despite certain unknowledgeable people complaining about this, it is a *good* thing. For example, it is *good* to have a character who can steal (the thief) without being a powerhouse of white and/or black magic. And it is also good that your white or black mage can not steal.

The reason this is good is because the player has to think about the party and actually use some real tactics to carry the battles. This is entirely unlike Final Fantasy 7 where all the characters are exactly the same and completely interchangeable. Thought and strategy are good things to have in a RPG because they make the game more interactive. Without them, the player merely watches from the sidelines.

Games that fail to engage turn the player into just a spectator. This is not fun. Final Fantasy 7 and 10 are the most egregious examples of this in the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasy 9 manages to avoid this to some degree, and that makes it worlds better than the others.

On the other hand, there are still problems with the game. Magic spells and advanced techniques are learned by equipping different items. This is handled much better than the materia system in Final Fantasy 7, but it still makes little sense. How does putting on a new hat help your Black Mage learn the Fire spell?

Still, as said, it works better than the materia debacle. Often, weapons, armor, and accessories have multiple skills that can be learned from them, but no one character is allowed to learn all those skills. This is how the materia system *should* have worked.

Then there is the Trance system. Trance replaces the limit breaks from Final Fantasy 7 and 8. For the most part, Trance is far superior to the Limit Breaks. For example: you get more than one attack with Trance. The character in Trance keeps using it until the Trance meter is empty. Another advantage is that the extra power of Trance applies to *all* your character's skills, not merely to the special techniques it unlocks. Physical attacks and magic spells become powered up as well. It offers the player a wide range of choices.

The one disadvantage to Trance is that it can not be saved for a later battle. When Trance activates, that's it and you have to use it. If any of the Trance meter is left at the end of the battle, it is lost and the meter goes down to zero when the battle ends.

This can be a major pain. More than once, I have had a monster get in one last hit and send one of my characters into Trance. Then one of my other characters strikes and ends the battle right then. The Trance is completely wasted, and the character's meter starts over from zero.

All in all, the gameplay is the weakest part of the game. But it has a couple saving graces that prevent it from rendering the game unplayable.

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