Welcome back to my Final Fantasy Retrospective Series. This time, we’ll be taking a look at Final Fantasy IX.
The story begins with Zidane, a good-hearted thief with a tail and knack for chasing beautiful women. He is a part of Tantalus, a group of thieves that pose as playwrights in order to carry out heists in the background. Their plan: perform the popular play “I Want To Be Your Canary” for the Queen of Alexandria, Queen Brahne. It’s clearly a Shakespearean play based on the forbidden love of two people.
While they carry out the play, Zidane will kidnap the Princess, and hold her for ransom to get rich quick. The plan complicates a little when Princess reveals to Zidane that she wants to be kidnapped and wishes to explore the world in defiance of her mother. They end up ruining the play and make a narrow escape on the Tantalus’ ship after being attacked by Queen Brahne’s bombardment of missiles and harpoons.
The ship crashes, and it turns out that the Queen’s guard, the resolute and law-abiding Steiner, is along with them at the crash-site. The story then expands, as shortly after escaping the dangerous forest they are in, and saving the child-like Black Mage Vivi, they see that Queen Brahne has ordered the return of Princess Garnet by any means necessary. Garnet does not wish to return, so she takes up a new identity as Dagger, to hide until more answers can be found on what’s going on with the other nations, and exploring the world.
The story, just like the games presentation, is much more friendly and inviting than the cold, rough world of Final Fantasy VIII. The colors are brighter, and the story is much more in a fantasy setting, rather than the more grounded approach of previous installments. Even the character models have regressed from being realistic to being little miniature figures. They still maintain the polish that comes from the series, and I think that overall, it achieves a return to a more traditional Final Fantasy game. The combat has returned to the standard system, with only the addition of gear granting bonuses that can be equipped through the AP system. This can grant resistances to certain types of damage, add summons, and add new moves entirely. With the combat not being too complex, it’s time to delve into the themes of the game, and why it sticks out so well as one of the better games in my opinion.
Once again, this is a much more character focused experience, with the main idea being that one should not break away from their ideals and their identity. Zidane may be a thief, but he is not above helping those in need. Steiner may be a knight, but is his free will really not important anymore? Those sorts of questions drive the plot for the characters forward, and their struggle with who they really are lies at the heart of the story. Even the villain’s motivations tie into this theme.
Characters in this game become very understandable in their motivations and ideals quickly, allowing the player to find a favorite, and luckily an adequate amount of screen time is given to each member of the party. Vivi himself is a very important character, as he not only tackles a very important issue—discrimination and classism—but also succeeds at being an admirable addition to the cast. He popularized the Black Mage archetype in the series, and it’s easy to see why. These characters overall create a very deep story, that can delve into some very serious issues, and lead to many moments of frustration between the cast for their problems conflicting with one another. It also helps to say that this game has easily one of the most satisfying endings to a game I have ever seen and was pretty emotional.
One of the things I realized I never talked about with my previous retrospectives is the music in these titles. While every game has at least a few well known songs, I have to say that Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX have absolutely astounding soundtracks. “Sacred Grounds” in particular when visiting the holy land Esto Gaza, has one of the most interesting sounds in the game. While I am no music genius, I can tell that a lot of work was put into creating a very atmospheric soundtrack, which really helps build the emotions of many scenes in the game.
The settings themselves are very unique, with basically every different area having its own people, and own culture to be explored. My favorite by far has to be the dwarves of Conde Petie, a tribe of well meaning and hardworking people that live peacefully and close to the sun. They are so innocent that you can’t help but be interested when the priest of the land explains their history and why they live as close to the sun as possible. Each and every place has a clear story to tell, and the game does an excellent job of making the information not only intriguing but also accessible. This game was considered the best game in the series during its release, and maintains its reputation as one of the greats for a reason. One of the only things I was somewhat annoyed by was the random encounter rate feeling very high when traveling from area to area (It’s no SMT Nocturne by any means so it’s fine). It slows the experience down a bit, but it does help with being sufficiently leveled for what can be pretty challenging bosses. It’s just a game I cannot recommend enough.
I think that this game definitely deserves at least one attempt to play it, and it’s easily accessible on every platform. For those who wish to listen to the “Sacred Grounds”, it can be found here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ItQnuHKH394
As always, thank you for reading, and stay tuned for next time where I talk about another fantastic edition to the series, Final Fantasy X.