The original release of Final Fantasy IX in 2000 marked a return to form for the Final Fantasy series. After the first two 3D entries ventured into modern-esque dystopian worlds with new technologies, Final Fantasy IX went back to the series renowned steampunk / fantasy setting to the delight of most fans. The series had experienced a boom in popularity after Final Fantasy VII, yet many were dissatisfied with the experimentation that followed with Final Fantasy VIII.
Thus, developer Squaresoft decided to put its faith into some of its most reliable and experienced story writers, and the results were spectacular. Old school Final Fantasy fans were in heaven, and while the newcomers were perhaps expecting something more along the lines of Midgar, most of those fans learned to appreciate Final Fantasy IX for the brilliant story, graphical enhancements, and sheer size of the game.
Eighteen long years have passed and a numbered Final Fantasy entry has finally made it back to a Nintendo console. Final Fantasy IX is the first in a number of releases coming to the Switch this year, but does it withstand the test of time? Does Kuja still look like a girl? Read on to find out!
Final Fantasy IX is widely celebrated as the most beautiful game that ever released on the original PlayStation, and this Switch port definitely cleans up some graphical shortcomings of an 18 year old 3D title. The character sprites – most noticeably – were very clean, with edges and faces sharply detailed to look more like they are PS2 quality. On the other hand, environments are still mostly pre-rendered and offer little in the way of interaction. I must admit that I was slightly disappointed at how the environments didn’t seem to get the graphical upgrade that the characters and battle animations did.
The game still features some of the most beautifully imagined locations that the series has ever given us. Cleyra happens to be right up there with Zeal from Chrono Trigger as my favorite villages in terms of beauty and imagination. The famous Final Fantasy FMVs have also made their way into this port, and while they are completely unchanged they are still beautiful.
The FMVs certainly offer somewhat of a reward as they are only placed throughout major moments of the game, mostly upon arriving at a new key location or right after defeating a major boss. Even as I play the game again over 17 years after its initial launch I STILL find myself wishing the wonderfully unique characters were given voiced dialogue during the FMVs. One would have to think it would be interesting (and most likely hilarious) to hear voices behind the likes of Zidane, Freya, and especially Quina and Steiner.
While I’m satisfied that one of the best RPGs ever did get some visual touch ups, I couldn’t help but want more. Not necessarily to the quality that the Final Fantasy VII remake is getting, but just a little something extra would’ve been nice. On the bright side, there is virtually no noticeable difference upon switching from the TV to handheld mode.
Gameplay and Performance
At the time of its original release I was convinced that Final Fantasy IX had perfected the traditional turn based battle system, and my conviction remains the same to this day. It’s simple – yet deep – and preparation is very much key before charging into an important boss fight.
In a bit of a unique twist for the series – equippable items in your inventory can unlock different spells and abilities. Summons work similarly to previous entries, as well, and can be learned through both experience and equipping items. Summons are accompanied by long, dramatic animations that are still a sight to behold.The weapon synthesis system makes a return also, and I still loved it as much as I did years ago. Finding items in order to create a legendary weapon still becomes an addictive game within the game and can truly be the difference in making the endgame a cakewalk versus being borderline impossible.
One addition that I found to be interesting was the small mod key included on the display. It includes options that allow you to move at double speed, deal 9,999 HP damage with every strike and even turn off random encounters. The hardcore gamer within me felt guilty, but I have to admit that it was satisfying to turn on the 9,999 damage mode and one shot tough enemies on the plateau above Gizamaluke’s Grotto to gain about 20 levels in 5 minutes (Side note: If you wish to do this trick “legally” there is a blue magic ability that Quina can learn that allows s/he to deal 9,999 damage when s/he has 1HP left). Speed runners and casual gamers will likely get a kick out of these additions.
In the years since Final Fantasy IX was released we have seen some massive in-game worlds brought to life. On the Switch alone we have had the likes of Skyrim and the massive land of Hyrule in Zelda: Breath Of the Wild. The world of Gaia was gigantic to gamers in 2000, so we were ok with a few extra long loading times. However, there is no excuse as to why this game should still have the same amount of loading times as games like the aforementioned Skyrim and BotW.
Loading screens are painfully long, particularly when transitioning from the overworld into battle. I’ve timed a few of these to be as long as 15 seconds. This really seems like an issue that could’ve been cleaned up before release, but it’s a minor gripe at best. Other staff members here at SwitchRPG have even told me that they have experienced hard crashes during transitional screens. I didn’t have that problem personally, but there were a few times which I feared that was the case due to the long times.
This is where Final Fantasy IX separates itself from the pack for me. This is a grand tale that manages to intricately progress the development of its characters separately and beautifully. I became interested and attached to each character along with their back stories, development, and in game goals. Too many RPGS fail to provide closure these days, whether it be unanswered questions about the main arc or about certain character’s loose ends, often chalked up to “player interpretation”.
Quite frankly, this concept is lazy and uninspiring to me, and Final Fantasy IX is the game to thank for that. With the help of the Active Time Sequences, Every character receives closure as long as you progress far enough. Then, the main story wraps a beautiful, happy bow around itself right at the very end. It seems like every Final Fantasy since this one has chosen to stick with somber endgames, and therefore failed to stack up to the end of this one (in my opinion).
That’s not to say that a great game can’t have a sad or somber ending and be great – Final Fantasy X is a prime example. I also loved its ending but it just doesn’t provide that aforementioned feeling of closure like Final Fantasy IX. The main story of this game may not be the best in the series, but when each character has such intriguing story progression to go along with the main arc…you get a beautiful masterpiece.
It’s great to have Final Fantasy back with Nintendo, isn’t it? Especially on the Switch. Some of these games simply transcend time and need to be made available for the newer generations, and Final Fantasy IX is one that I hope to see them experience. Turn-based combat has been making a comeback in recent years, and it’s my opinion that this was the first game to perfect it. Combine that with a grand story arc and beautifully interwoven character progression and I think you have the best Final Fantasy in the series with this one. And yes…Kuja still looks like a girl.