Ah, Final Fantasy 9, or as I like to call, Final Fantasy Throwback since all the references this game has. Seriously, there are so many that it would make your head spin. For the final game in the PS1 trio as well as a game developed along side FFX, this is a game that was not received THAT well when it first came out. However, times have changed and now it's one of the more loved games in the series, and what is considered to be one of the best games in the series. I'd argue it is THE best game in the series, but we'll get to that.
The story is about a group of thieves who kidnap a princess, and during this heist, they get caught in a giant war between kingdoms. Turns out the princess that was captured was intended to be sacrificed so her mother could use powers sealed within her to rule the world. It's later revealed that a man named Kuja was playing the queen like a fool and intended to absorb the powers for himself and screw shit up. To do this, he gave her all the powers she could need to take over the kingdoms, and then plotted to take it away when the time was right. Eventually, the queen and Kuja duke it out with Kuja killing the ugly woman. It's later revealed that Kuja is an alien from a different planet and was sent to destroy the world so his world could be saved. Kuja resented this task and decided to be the god of both. After killing the queen, he manipulates the main character Zidane to do things for him otherwise he'd kill those Zidane loves. Eventually, Kuja succeeds in becoming the ruler of both worlds, but learns from his creator that he was born frail and is about to die. So Kuja goes " Fuck it! If I can't live, nobody can" and proceeds to attempt to destroy both worlds and kill everyone, but is eventually stopped in the final battle.
Despite sounding so dark, don't worry. The game has plenty of moments where it gets silly and you feel like you're watching a cartoon from the 90s. It could be something as simple as Zidane trying to get a feel of the female lead, or Steiner hanging on a rope like a piñata and crashing into a tower with the most ridiculous look on his face.
The plot may seem a little out there, but it's nothing complicated. Hell, it's arguably the least complicated plot of the PS1 trio. When it comes to the characters, all of the party have their own special personality, and while they do have moments where they change their attitudes when shit gets real, Square FINALLY keeps the personalities consistent throughout a majority of main game. No more having a character be one way for a short time, and then have them be as dull as a rock for a majority of the game. Or in Squall's case, constantly changing his attitude every few hours.
I will say that Zidane is, bar none, my favorite protagonist in the series. He's silly and light hearted, but doesn't have a problem to get his ass kicked to protect those he cares about. Actually, all the characters are relatable and likeable now. And like Zidane, Kuja is my favorite antagonist in the series. He spends the entire game manipulating EVERYONE, knows how to fuck stuff up when he gets pissed, and when you think of it, he's the only antagonist to never actually lose to the party. Sure, the final battle ends in a draw, but he still succeeds in his mission to destroy the source of all life which is a magical crystal. If only he had a different outfit.
When it comes to soundtracks, usually Final Fantasy music is great, but this one REALLY hits it out of the park for me. The music knows exactly when to be silly and light hearted, or grim and depressing when the mood is right. Not only that, but it gets bonus points for me because just about every theme is a remix off one theme, and that theme, Melodies of Life is a fantastic piece.
Now for the gameplay. Square FINALLY realized "Maybe we shouldn't make the characters the same thing minus an ability here and there" and decided to make everyone their own unique class and abilities. When it comes to learning abilities, it's not like 7 where you keep magical stones that weaken your stats, or 8 where you draw magic and/or refine items with GF abilities. All you do is equip a piece of armor onto someone. The armor will say what abilities a character can learn from it, and as long as they have the armor on, they can use the ability at will until they obtain a certain amount of AP. And unlike 7 where it took thousands of AP to level up, here, it's usually something like 30-50 AP. After you learn them, you simply go into the ability screen an equip what you want.
Now it sounds like I love this game, which I do, but every game has problems. The first one is the equipment. A lot of equipment in the game must be forged to obtain, and 90% of the time, it's from equipment much earlier in the game. So because of this, you are never able to sell your old crap for money since you may not be able to craft better armor for new abilities. Not only that, but there are times where the party will split into separate groups and travel to opposite sides of the world. If you didn't take the equipment off to give to someone else when the parties switch, then you wont be able to get them the abilities until the group reunites which can take HOURS. It also doesn't help that there's no way to tell when you switch groups unless you know ahead of time.
The 2nd problem is the battle system. It's your typical turned based RPG where all the characters have their own class which is great, but this battle system is SO painfully slow. Battle transitions can take roughly 15 seconds to lead into the battle, and the ATB bars can take a good 30 seconds to fill unlike others where it might take 1-4 seconds. It really sucks since their ATB bars don't fill when someone else is performing an action. On top of that, when the character's limit break bars fill up, you have to watch them go through a 10 second transformation before you can control them again, and another 10 seconds to transform back when it empties out.
If things couldn't get worse, lets talk about Zidane. He's a thief so he steals stuff. This is fine and all, but not when you're facing a boss. 9 times out of 10, bosses have unique equipment that you can only get from them with abilities you want, but if RNG is not on your side, you can be waiting a good half hour before you get that damn thing. *looks at the Fairy Flute* You poor suckers who actually try stealing that.
The 3rd and final problem I have is the card game. I love Triple Triad in 8, and it's one of the only things if not the only thing that 8 does better than 9. It was simple, short, and didn't require a strategy guide to win. The card game in 9 is just a giant mess. I honestly don't know how to explain it. There are so many rules and contradictions in it. Hey, it reminds me of Yugioh in that regard
. Now, I wouldn't mind this if the game was optional like in 8, but there's a part in the game where it's MANDATORY to win a tournament of this awful card game, and there's lots of RNG in this one. All I can say is pray to god luck is on your side. Well ok, you don't need to win the last game, but it's still something you should do since the prize is great. Just expect to save scum a lot here.
That's really all I can say about 9. Structure, soundtrack, characters, and game mechanics wise, I do think 9 is the best game. However, as stated, the game is SO painfully slow. It doesn't help that this is arguably the longest game in the series next to 12. Because of how slow the game is, I really can't recommend this one to those who are not the patient type. But if you either have a lot of patience, or you have something on the side, then go for it.
Like usual, I'm leaving out the optional content since it's not something needed to experience the beauty that is 9.
Another Final Fantasy rant done with, and like always, leave your thoughts on the game below and if you could recommend it to others. I love the game personally, wish it was faster, and would like to see what you guys have to say. Hopefully that PC port of 9 sped the game up.