Rated: 2 / 5*
This was the one PS1 Final Fantasy game I hadn’t played in my youth. Or rather, I played a bit of it, but then got sidetracked by something else. I’m one of those people where if I’m unable to complete a game within a certain number of days (maybe even a couple weeks if it’s good enough), my interest moves on to something else; and I forget about the other game for a long while. Long enough to forget about enough of the story and characters to where I don’t know what the hell is going on or what I’m supposed to do. But in all fairness, this wasn’t the first Final Fantasy game that suffered this fate. Final Fantasy VIII had the same experience for me, except in that game’s case I had no interest to ever revisit it. The story got ridiculous and uninteresting, and really fucking sappy, even by modern J-RPG standards. With Final Fantasy IX though, the desire to revisit it was there.
Purchased a copy on Steam, downloaded it, sought out any interesting mods that would improve the experience, and found one.
So there’s this exceptional graphics mod to truly make the re-release worthy of modern systems.
While the re-release updated most of the characters in terms of graphics quality, the background quality was found lacking in comparison. In that it was still pixelated PS1 graphics. Kind of at odds with the clearer character figures. Moguri’s Mod fixes this, drastically improving background image quality. It’s a must have, but not the only thing to have.
In Moguri’s Mod (and in other mod forums), there’s reference to another mod that contains the original sound effects for the game, replacing the dumb ones the remastered version of the game got. Well apparently that mod got deleted. But this one is the next best thing. Moguri’s mod has instructions on how to install sound (replacement) files like this (in that there are a couple files not to install in the entire package).
So, with that out of the way…
So this is the game many consider to be the best Final Fantasy game of all time. Problem with that is that many also consider III-X + XII to be the greatest of all time (but anyone who says X is the best has shit taste in games). So it depends on what you’re looking for in a Final Fantasy game. If you’re looking for a good story, I’ll just say it’s at least better than the story in VIII.
But me, personally, I found the story in IV to be better (also known as Final Fantasy II when it first hit the U.S. in the 90s, but that’s not the roman numeral people should be using to refer to it nowadays, because the 90s U.S. really sucked when it came to importing games overseas in a manner that stayed true to original titles, let alone translations, as Phantasy Star I can attest). The fact that it’s been over a decade since I’ve played IV and still have fond memories of my experiences with it should say something. Sure it pulled its punches with a couple character deaths, but by and large one of the best games in the franchise.
It doesn’t hold a candle to VII though, where the characters are just as memorable as the story itself.
As for V, couldn’t tell you, never played it.
As for VI . . . It’s another one of those “my attention got diverted elsewhere” situations, though I did get pretty far into it. The game itself was quite solid in all respects, except for one. The villain in VI absolutely sucks. One of the most one-dimensional “evil for the sake of being evil” bad guys I’ve ever seen in my life in a videogame, and that’s saying a lot. It was enough to make the experience less interesting. Hell, even the game itself didn’t seem too interested in the main story. It was more interested in having the game focus more on the characters, their backstories, and their own personal quests and getting those resolved than it was getting the main quest resolved. Well, at least it had its priorities straight. Could’ve had their fucking cake and eaten it too though if they had a villain half as interesting as Sephiroth. Or hell, even a villain somewhere in the ballpark of IX would’ve been enough.
Which brings me to this game. The villains in this are, meh. They had some amount of depth to them, and you do learn their backstory and thus their motivations as the game goes on. Same thing with all the other characters in the game, who do have their own arcs. It’s just the amount of time the game takes, and the manner it goes about doing it, that makes the game suffer. If a poor villain was the downfall of Final Fantasy VI, then pacing is the downfall of this game. It’s too slow for its own good. It was difficult for me to stay interested in what was happening. Not enough interesting stuff was happening frequently enough. My interest started to dwindle a bit once I got past the first few hours (basically after the forest turns to stone). Then my interest began to fall faster once I reached the bug king. After that, I was just waiting for my vesting interest to return.
The characters weren’t fleshed out enough, early enough, to make me all that invested in them. I mean, say what you will about VIII’s hokiness and plot that went off the rails, at least it knew how to pace itself and give you reason to care about who your were playing with and what you should be doing. IX meanders a little too much. I mean, at least each character was distinct and memorable. Then again, the franchise tended to be pretty good about that with games VII-X. But being distinct and memorable doesn’t equate to good. Everyone remember the dog from Duck Hunt, and hating that son of a bitch. It’s not that most of the characters in IX are bad per-se, just that they all come off as average to me. And average doesn’t cut it for a game that runs over 30 hours.
Aside from wishing the villains were given more depth early on compared to saving pretty much all of it for the last act of the game, the only character I really had a problem with was Beatrix. This bitch…
I’m sorry, I know my anger is above what many would expect for a character like this. But she’s the thing I hated the most about this game. She’s this “badass” warrior who can wipe the floor with your party throughout the entire first half of the game. And then this game has the gall to suggest that later on when she’s working with everyone it’s more of a level playing field at this point. Fuck you. That comes off as having a badass female character just for the sake of having one. In fact, now that I think about it, Aaron from Final Fantasy X was also fucking annoying for a similar reason. The main badass of the game, except he’s so full of himself and very unhelpful by borderline sabotaging everything by withholding valuable information. The alleged strongest guy in the party. And yet he’s to be on similar grounds as everyone else. Fuck all the characters the Final Fantasy franchise tries to make uber-badass. I’d rather take the guys who act badass but who are really just wimps too full of themselves and their egos like in VIII. At least there’s self-awareness with them on the game’s part.
Everyone seems to like Vivi. I stand by my statement that everyone else, including Vivi, is just a meh character. It’s mainly because his character exists primarily to shove a moral lesson down the gamer’s throat. Something along the lines of racism is bad, machines have souls too (machines in the sense of being artificial creations, like replicants or something, but in its own Fantasy way), it’s what’s on the inside that counts, even beings that aren’t human have a sense of humanity and a right to exist, etc. A theme this game loves so much, it throws it at you twice, with another character. I mean, I know Japanese aren’t exactly subtle with their themes and stuff (VII was about being eco-friendly and green peace after all), but it becomes a problem when an entire character and its arc can’t exist without being the pure personification of that message. Because there’s literally nothing else to their character other than that. You know, like Rey in the cocksucking Disney Star Wars trilogy. I’d say I’m going easy on this game by just saying I find Vivi to be just a meh character, all things considered. Must have something to do with the charm of his design and his mannerisms, even if there’s no reason given why he looks that way compared to all the others of his kind.
And while the story does get interesting at various points (few and far between), it really does get to be too much during the finale. I shit you know, they throw in some random boss and universe-ending stakes into this whole thing at the last minute, when the whole thing would’ve been better off by keeping it more personal between two planets (let’s face it, compared to “universe”, two planets is more small scale and personal by comparison). And there’s no buildup to this final-final boss at all, other than the five minutes leading up to it. It’s ridiculous, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the last-minute-conflict/villain concept be taken to such extremes. To the point where “last-minute” is a literal statement.
So that’s my say on the story and characters. But what about the combat system? You know, the thing that makes the game an actual game? It’s just like every other Final Fantasy game with an ATB system. Despite how they may mix up the leveling up, upgrades, spell (not very much change-up in that department, they’ve been the same since forever), and summoning, combat has been the same ever since FFVI. Well actually it’s been the same since the first game when you think about it. ATB is just a way of making it seem different by requiring real-time input for the sake of an adrenaline shot, without doing anything to address the tedium. Combat is the same. What’s different is what can be done when leveling up, or what excuses the game gives you to grind and want more combat. Which is where this interesting system comes into play where you gain certain spells/abilities when your character equips certain pieces of armor or weapons. Not all characters can get the same spells/abilities (ex: if an armor piece grants a character the ability to have the Cure spell, that only applies to characters fit to learn Cure from the get-go). And you only have those spells/abilities while you have that weapon/armor equipped. But fight enough battles while wearing it, and you can have it as a permanent ability that character has. You can only have so many abilities active at once, but the more you level up, the more abilities the character can have active. It’s not a half-bad system. And to be fair, the difficulty level seemed just right for this game (as opposed to VII being too easy).
But it’s not enough to keep me wanting to go through combat for 30+ hours. Plus the card minigame Tetra Master is a far inferior version to the VIII minigame Triple Triad (which is considered one of the greatest minigames ever made in a videogame to this day; the fact that Tetra Master is a disgrace to Triple Triad, when it should’ve been an improvement, is a sin). And like I said, the story and characters aren’t good enough to make the combat system passable at best to keep me interested in the game. So I dropped out of playing this before getting to the 3rd disc (which means I didn’t get as far as I didn’t when I was younger; don’t have the patience anymore). Which is where the asterisk comes in.
* = Didn’t play the entire game.
But I didn’t want to leave this thread dangling over me for the next several years until I decided to take up playing this again, so I did the only reasonable thing that would still make me qualified to give this game a review. I watched a 14 hour movie version of it on YouTube (skipped past the first 5 hours, as I played through that portion). Wanted to make sure I experienced the story, which I’ve been told was the main reason to get through this thing. And by the end of it, I just thought, “meh”. Not exactly a reaction that supports the idea of this being one of the greatest Final Fantasy games of all time.
At the end of the day, from my past experience playing games in this franchise, this doesn’t rank up with the only other ones I consider to be solid games. Final Fantasy IV, VII, and XII. That being said, I do need to replay VI, need to at least give III and V a shot, and need to try out Final Fantasy Tactics. Anything beyond XII and before III, forget it. Anything earlier is too much of a grind-fest (and I suspect III might be one too). Anything later than XII sucks about as much ass as X did, maybe even more-so in some aspects. I say this not having played XI and XIV (mainly because those are online games), and never will play XV (forget it, everything I’ve seen about that game makes me more and more disinterested, except in the sense of seeing some online review of someone having an emotional breakdown over how much the game crushed their soul).
Final Fantasy IX may appeal to you in-spite of everything I’ve just said. In which case, go for it if it’s your cup of tea. There’s entries in the franchise far worse than this one. This is just too middle-of-the-road for me.
PS: Oh God, that’s right. One other thing worth mentioning. The creators of this game clearly took too much inspiration of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, which came out a year prior to this game’s release. Because these lines are in this game:
Fear leads to anger…
Anger leads to hate…
Hate leads to suffering.
I shit you not.