Cidolfas's RPG Reviews: Final Fantasy IX (PSX)
You Are: Zidane Tribal, a rapscallion with a monkey tail. He pairs up with Garnet Til Alexandros, a runaway princess; Adelbert Steiner, her too-loyal retainer; Vivi, a childlike Black Mage; and several other less-integral party members.
Your Goal Is: At the start of the game, it's to kidnap the princess (a fun riff on FF1's beginning). Later, it morphs into a vendetta both personal and global.
General System: FF9 doesn't have a lot of unique attributes; it just does what it does really well. There are special "?" and "!" bubbles that pop up when there's something to examine or find (so no more mindless X-tapping). You can have up to four characters in your party, and for the majority of the game those characters are set and can't be changed. A really cool idea is the Active Time Events, which allow you to see what's happening elsewhere while a scene is going on with your active leader. Menus are easy to use, with a cute "context moogle" that pops up with the Select button. Other than that, there's very little difference between FF9 and its precursors in the series.
Battle System: Again, not much difference here. Your regular Active Time Battle system (meter fills up, you take your turn by attacking, defending, using items or spells). First off, there's the Trance Meter, aka the Limit Meter in other games. It fills up as you take damage; when it's full, you transform in battle and can do mega-attacks, depending on the character. But the main thrust here involves the Ability system. Most items you equip have abilities latched on to them. There are two kinds: Active, which are moves or spells, and Passive, which can be equipped using Ability Gems - basically points, which raise when you raise levels. Each Passive Ability takes up a requisite amount of points. Here's the rub: You can immediately use any abilities which are on your equipped items. However, as you battle and gain AP, you'll "learn" those abilities, meaning they can be used even when the item is taken off. This results in a surprising amount of strategy and balance as far as equipment goes; often you'll want to wear weaker items to learn better abilities.
Graphics: Very nice, especially the prerendered backgrounds. A bit pixellated though. The characters are deformed in anime style this time, but their animations are quite expressive.
Music: Some excellent tunes, a lot of decent ones, a few annoying ones. The music generally fits the mood very well. I think it's stronger than either FF8 or FF10, although not as high-quality as FF6 or FF7.
Story: Extremely well-thought-out. The story is peppered with references to previous FFs, which are a pleasure for fans like me. There are quite a few unexpected twists and turns which keep you entertained. However, by far the best thing about it is the characters. Each of the major players, and most of the minor ones, are extremely solid in their conception. Their thoughts and actions reflect who they are very well, and there's a lot of character growth. The dialogue in particular is some of the best I've ever seen in an RPG; Zidane's playfulness, Steiner's stuffiness, Dagger's desire to please, Eiko's charming aggressivenes... Kuja's madness. They're all presented in an extremely convincing manner, and they're a pleasure just to be around and to watch.
Length: About 60 hours
My Thoughts: Well, I gave FF9 my first and only perfect rating, so I'd better explain myself. As I've mentioned, first and foremost are the characters and dialogue. The chemistry between Zidane and Steiner or Amarant, Eiko and her self-imposed love triangle, the thoughts and wishes of the Black Mages and Genomes... they all introduce some intriguing ideas, and present themselves in a way I've yet to see any other RPG do. The dialogue is first-rate and consistently entertaining, with a touch of humor no other Squaresoft game has really achieved.
Of course, the other important part of an RPG is the gameplay, and FF9 is top-notch in this department as well. The battles can be far more challenging than any FF to date, but without being cheap; strategy involved in learning and equipping abilities really makes a difference. Status ailments can bite.
The exploration is great for a packrat like me, who loves finding nooks and crannies with neat little bits of treasure in it. The Chocobo Hot and Cold mini-game is probably the most enjoyable I've ever played, mixing reflexes, treasure hunting, upgrading, and exploration all in one, with great rewards as well. There's just something very complete about this game. And in part, that's unsurprising: it was Squaresoft's tender goodbye to the series as we know it. It's most certainly a fitting one.
Overall Rating: 10/10