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Final Fantasy IX – Right Game, Right Time

Final Fantasy IX – Right Game, Right Time

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You didn’t think you’d get through JRPG July without me talking about Final Fantasy IX did you? The game I consider to be the pinnacle of the Final Fantasy series and the best game ever made? Of course you didn’t! Final Fantasy IX was an interesting tale in many respects from how I played it to how it played out, all of those aspects I’m now here to discuss.

If you’ve already read my feature where I discuss my history with JRPGs then you’ll know that I was a little late to the PS1 party, I’d been clamouring for it for quite some time but it wasn’t until late 1998 where I got in on the fun. When I got the console I quickly launched into Final Fantasy VII, Spyro and many other iconic PS1 games but when I burnt through those at a lightning pace the bank balance was a little low and the purchase of Final Fantasy VIII exhausted our gaming funds for a while; it was then that we discovered chipped consoles. A family friend set us up and also provided us with someone who had pages and pages of games available for us to purchase at an extremely low price; my eyes quickly landed on Final Fantasy IX, a game that had launched in the US and Japan but was yet to have journeyed to PAL regions. The chipped console and burnt games gave me the ability to play the game ahead of its Australian launch, and from that moment on, there was no looking back.

Vivi’s expression in this scene hit me harder than anything I’ve experienced in any other video game

Final Fantasy IX came at an interesting time in my life, I’d just moved from Primary School to High School, I’d gone from being a big fish in a small pond to a very small fish in a very big ocean. The internal struggles of some of Final Fantasy IX’s primary cast mirrored much of what I was feeling and experiencing at this point. The struggle to establish my own identity matched what Vivi, the game’s endearing Black Mage was experiencing, while several others were tussling with similar internal quandaries. On an emotional and thematic level, Final Fantasy IX came at just the right time in my life. It reminded me that I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling, and ultimately the game was an uplifting experience that helped me at the same time as the characters developed.

Themes and narrative aside, Final Fantasy IX also hit on the best aspects of every previous Final Fantasy game, pulling on the strings that I enjoyed the most about each of them. The ability system functioned like a more accessible version of Final Fantasy VII’s materia system, the game had the medieval Final Fantasy VI style about it versus the sci-fi aspects we’d become accustomed to in Final Fantasy VII and VIII, and the side-adventure of Tetra Master was a refined and improved version of VIII’s Triple Triad game. Add all of this to an engaging narrative, gorgeous world, and the most refined version of Final Fantasy’s turn-based combat, and you’ve got the perfect concoction to keep young Paul invested for hundreds of hours.

The terror of an impending Bahamut assault felt so real

I proceeded to complete Final Fantasy IX countless times, its music etched into my brain, and for well over a decade ensuring that I completed the game at least once per year. Real world adult responsibilities have meant that in recent years I’ve been unable to replay the game as I once did, but the love of the game persists regardless. Final Fantasy excels because it makes you care, more than most other games in the franchise it’s relatable, and it’s the highest point of the franchise’s turn-based combat approach. It’s also responsible for some of the most memorable moments in gaming history as far as I’m concerned including the chase with Black Waltz III and the battle between Bahamut and Alexander.

I’ve hoped for quite some time now that Sony and Square-Enix would come together to announce that it (alongside VIII) would see their PC ports make their way to the PS4, in the same way, that VII did several years ago. The further we get from that VII release the more I think of it as purely being a tease for the VII Remake and not the first step in a re-release initiative. I cling to hope though! Final Fantasy IX was a game lost to many due to it releasing in a period of transition between the PS1 and PS2. If you’ve got the means to pick it up, whether that’s the original game or one of the ports to PS3, Vita or PC then you owe it to yourself to do so.

Paul James

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