RPG Review #115: Final Fantasy IX

NuMetalManiak It's Final Fantasy Five Time, on this multiple of five is a Final Fantasy game that naturally took about a month to complete. Here we are in the final month of 2019, and so far this year I started with Phantom Brave at #91, now I'm here at #115, proudly gotten through 100 of these games, and so far 25 RPGs have been played. What a good year it has been. It's highly unlikely my next game will be made before the new year, so this will be the final review for 2019. Final Fantasy IX, perhaps the true underrated title in the Final Fantasy franchise, people know about it, people often talk about other Final Fantasies instead of this. Much like VIII, this is a four-disc adventure, and it was long.

Gameplay: If you're already familiar with the basics, Final Fantasy IX won't be too different. Standard navigation in pre-rendered backgrounds like VII, standard active-time battle system that's prevalent for the series, chocobos, moogles, summons, sidequests, airships, random encounters, equipment, it's all here, with only a few changes. The ATE system (Active-Time Event) is usually shown during the story, where you can view events happening to other characters elsewhere. A new type of shop known as the Synthesis shop exists, allowing players to combine two pieces of equipment to make better ones, at a huge price most of the time. The game has an ability system, which gives a slightly different mechanic to customization as certain abilities can only be used by certain characters. Action abilities are basically your spells and skills, costing MP, while status abilities can be set in the menu to give certain effects (easier to kill certain types of enemies, status prevention or setting), which cost "magic stones" to use. There's a number of minigames as usual, the card game Tetra Master I wasn't a fan of, since there's no real payoff to playing over and over unlike the one in VIII.

So combat is also generally the same, different character rows, different types of actions to take, active-time battle system. You get experience, gil, and ability points for leveling up characters, money, and abilities. Fully leveling up one ability allows you to use it without the specific equipment equipped, which is nice. Veterans who are familiar with the Limit Break mechanic will be introduced to the Trance mechanic, which is sort of similar, but not so much. The extra gauge at the bottom of the command bar increases after getting hit, and when filled up a character goes into Trance, giving them more powerful actions and a good increase in stats. Although this does come at a cost, since the Trance gauge goes down while in Trance until it depletes fully and it doesn't last between battles.

So not a whole lot to really talk about for Final Fantasy IX's gameplay. But since it's a Final Fantasy game we're talking about, a lot of strategy can really make many of the battles both fun and easy, so I enjoyed a lot of it. If only the random encounter rate wasn't so high, this would have definitely been a top three for my Final Fantasy picks. Grade: A-

Characters: And much like the previous games, Final Fantasy IX's characters are well-developed, perhaps moreso than others.
Zidane Tribal: The main character of the game, he is a member of the thieving Tantalus group, so he's of the Thief class and can steal from enemies and use Thief skills. Naturally fast and usually strong, Zidane proves to be an effective leader.
Vivi Ornitier: Just look at this guy. He's a black mage through and through. Has one of the better character arcs.
Adelbert Steiner: A very loyal knight to the princess of Alexandria and is heavily devoted to protecting her. Also known as Rusty, Steiner fulfills the Knight class and can even combine his sword power with Vivi to do extra damage, in addition to Swd Art skills.
Garnet Til Alexandros XVII: Also known as Dagger, she's the princess of Alexandria whom Zidane kidnaps. Her role is a combination of white mage and Eidolon (summoner) and gains those particular spells.
Quina Quen: A member of the Qu race, it's unknown what the heck Quina even is, a huge and weird chef creature of sorts who loves to taste foods and speaks in strange tongues. In battle s/he fulfills the role of Blue Mage, and can Eat enemies to gain newer skills.
Freya Crescent: A member of Burmecia's dragoons, searching for her lost love. She has special skills related to the dragoon class, including the Jump ability.
Eiko Carol: A young Eidolon living amongst the Moogles in Madain Sari, she shares a similar role that Dagger does, white mage and summoner. Has a special Mog nearby that helps her.
Amarant Coral: This huge dude is a bounty hunter who decides to join Zidane, but can't understand what he thinks. Amarant has special Flair skills, and has the Throw skill to throw weapons.

Those playable characters all generally have great backstories and character development throughout the game, and Zidane himself manages to lead the group fantastically well despite any differences. He leads the group against a few villains, notably Queen Brahne (Dagger's mother), the flamboyant Kuja, and Terra's master, Garland (not related to the FF1 villain). Grade: A+

Plot: Four discs of plot? I'd say it was worth it.

The story starts with Tantalus planning the kidnapping of Princess Garnet of Alexandria. The members are Zidane, Blank, Marcus, Cinna, some rat dudes named the Nero brothers, and their boss Baku. They formulate a plan to distract Queen Brahne and the nobles of Alexandria with a famous play called "I Want to Be Your Canary". The play attracts pretty much everyone in Alexandria, including wandering black mage Vivi. At the same time, Garnet actually wants to leave the castle regardless, so she runs away, with Steiner attempting to track her down while Zidane and Blank attempt to orchestrate the kidnapping. The plan goes crazy at that point, as the characters above, along with Vivi all end up improvising the play a bit, and in the escape the Prima Vista (Tantalus' ship) gets shot down in the Evil Forest. Tantalus is stranded, and Zidane, Blank, Vivi, Steiner, and Garnet plan to escape the forest, which ends up turning to stone as the monsters attack them, with Blank being caught in. A bit before the next town Garnet decides to go by an incognito name, Dagger, and they also find out that soulless black mages are being used by Queen Brahne to attack others, which terrifies Vivi. The group meets up with the leader of Lindblum, Cid Fabool, who for some reason is turned into a bug, and Dagger warns him about Brahne. Cid of course was the one who hired Tantalus to save Garnet from Brahne earlier, and then a dying Burmecian soldier comes and tells Lindblum of the news. The group unites with Freya to help them out, only to find out Brahne's dealings with Kuja here, as well as a fight with Beatrix, the other commander of Alexandria, at the end of Disc 1.

Disc 2 has both Steiner and Dagger attempting to reach Alexandria while Zidane, Freya, and Vivi are at Burmecia. The two team up with Marcus to find Supersoft to help Blank, but then Steiner and Marcus are trapped while Dagger is abducted by her mother and used to extract Eidolons. Back to Zidane's group, they head to Cleyra where the Burmecian refugees are. Beatrix attacks the town before Brahne decides to use the summon Odin to completely destroy Cleyra, with Zidane's group escaping on Brahne's ship back to Alexandria. His group along with Steiner and Marcus agree to help rescue Dagger, also managing to convince Beatrix of the Queen's wrongdoings. While they escape with Dagger, Brahne then sics the Atomos summon on Lindblum, severely damaging it. At Lindblum Cid reasons that they should attack Kuja, the main dealer of Brahne, instead of Brahne herself, and Zidane's group makes their way to the Outer Continent via an underground passage. On this continent they meet Eiko, who tells them about the Iifa Tree. The group reasons that Kuja uses the mists to create black mages, with Vivi being a prototype, and defeats the source of the mist to thwart Kuja's plans and get his attention. Amarant then duels Zidane at Madain Sari, but joins afterwards, and Dagger learns about her Eidolon heritage and what really happened in her past. Back at the tree the group meets up with Kuja, preparing to battle, only for Brahne to backstab Kuja and attempt to use the black mages against him, where Kuja counters with Bahamut, destroying her entire fleet and mortally wounding her. The disc ends on a sad note as Brahne dies with Dagger over her.

Disc 3 is where Dagger becomes the new Queen of Alexandria, while Zidane eats up time at a card tournament. Alexandria is soon attacked by Kuja using Bahamut again, despite Steiner and Beatrix's best efforts to defend as well as Eiko and Dagger using the summon Alexander. A mysterious man on the ship the Invincible chastises Kuja and Zidane while severely damaging the town. This results in Dagger becoming mute for a good portion of the game (rendering her somewhat useless in combat I might add). Cid tries to turn himself back to normal but becomes a frog instead. The entire group plus Cid are captured by Kuja, with Zidane doing some of his dirty work somewhere on the Forgotten Continent, just because there is a magic blocker around that region. Meanwhile, the remaining characters plus Cid make their escape from the Desert Palace, except Eiko gets kidnapped. At the Lost Continent where she is taken to have her Eidolons extracted, Mog defends her and saves her, and the group finds Hilda, Cid's wife, who returns Cid to human form again. The next plan is to use their newest airship, Hilda Garde 3, to reach a new planet named Terra in order to stop the mysterious man, named Garland. A whole lot happens here, Zidane finds out he and Kuja were created as Genomes to start wars on the main planet, Gaia, and Garland not only created both of them but also used the Iifa Tree to replace dying souls with those from Terra, utilizing the mist in preparation for the merging of Terra and Gaia. The climax of Disc 3 happens upon Kuja's arrival where he kills Garland. In his last words Garland tells Kuja of his limited lifespan, and he outright destroys Terra.

Disc 4 is mostly a loose ends disc with the final dungeon being made. A new dungeon above the Iifa Tree, Memoria, is made, out of the memories of all the characters, which Zidane can see with the unexpected help of Garland. The Crystal World, which is the origin of the universe so to speak, is where the party confronts a Tranced Kuja and defeats him, before fighting the master of death, Necron (gee this is a villain out of nowhere with NO BACKSTORY). It naturally ends explosively, with the destruction of the Iifa Tree and the escape of everyone, barring Zidane who finds Kuja near death at the tree itself. The epilogue shows that Vivi has somehow procreated several identical mages, having had his life expectancy expire, and Queen Dagger watches the play with her guards Steiner and Beatrix, only to find a surprise in that ZIdane plays the leading role, causing the two to embrace at the very end.

It's definitely a roller coaster of a plot, lots of stuff happens, any and all exciting scenes are definitely exciting, made even better by the games EXCELLENT USE of FMVs. It's easily one of the better Final Fantasy plots. Grade: A+

Music: And is there much to say about the music? Of course when you have Nobuo Uematsu at the composing helm things turn out spectacularly, lots of neat tunes of varying tones and many are memorable. Grade: A-

Overall Grade: A

A worthwhile adventure, one that has a few screwups but those get outweighed easily by the good stuff. The moments are generally endearing and many characters develop very well. It's a good game.