I’m thankful that I was able to play the original version of Final Fantasy IX a few days after it was released in 2000. I had so much fun with it that I ended up playing through it twice almost back to back. Both times, I indulged in all the side quests (except for Excalibur II – eff that noise) and secrets while getting infinitely frustrated with Tetra Master. It’s a solid adventure, and a great legacy for Squaresoft’s best RPG series on the PlayStation. It’s weird thinking about the fact that I replayed the game for a third time over 20 years later. Final Fantasy IX has been remastered for several current gen consoles with crisp, HD graphics and handy gameplay boosters. If not for the latter, then the game wouldn’t be as enjoyable. 20 years ago, I was able to overlook the many problems FFIX had. Or maybe, I was just oblivious to them. If anything, this HD remaster makes me appreciate what FFIX did right and question why the things wrong weren’t addressed.
Final Fantasy IX takes place on the world of Gaia. Our hero is a bright and snappy thief named Zidane Tribal. With his friends in the theater troupe Tanatlus, Zidane is on a mission to kidnap the princess of Alexandria: Garnet Til Alexandros. Infiltrating the castle is easy. But, things take a weird turn. Zidane ends up running into the princess. She wants Zidane and his friends to kidnap her. They hop aboard the Tantalus’ ship for the adventure of a lifetime. Since this is a remaster like Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII, the story remains unchanged. That said, the story is still enjoyable no matter your familiarity. Those new to the game will be treated to a great cast of characters in a fully realized world that mixes cartoon shenanigans and heavy drama. Zidane and his friends are an exceptionally written bunch of characters. Vivi, everyone’s favorite black mage, always has and always will capture hearts the world over. Really, the only issue with the story happens at the very end; it’s something that can’t be discussed due to spoilers. Those that already went through the game should know what I’m talking about.
Squaresoft marketed Final Fantasy IX as an RPG that combines the best of the old with the best of the new. This idea is the most evident in the gameplay. Zidane and his crew travel from location to location, moving from story bit to story bit. When you first enter a new location (usually a town) the party tends to split up. Actually, for a good chunk of the game, players never have a full party. Zidane might be the central focus most of the time, but the scene will often shift to other characters until your entire roster unites late in the game. Additional story scenes are viewed through Active Time Events. Unfortunately, ATEs are triggered in an odd way. By viewing one, you may or may not unlock another one. It’s a weird method of storytelling that could have been completely replaced with simply shifting the scene back and forth.
That’s one issue I was able to overlook before. Another is Item Synthesis. The idea is simple: combine two items to make a new one. This “simple” idea becomes a problem because it means you must buy at least two of every weapon, helmet, shield, accessory and so on. Money isn’t too much of a problem – there are piles of gil lying everywhere and monsters are generous with their rewards. Still, you’ll watch your account go to zero before you know it if you want to keep up with everyone’s gear and take full advantage of synthesis, all while dealing with a cluttered inventory. Somewhat related, Final Fantasy IX features an ability system that relies on your team’s equipment. Every piece of gear has an active and/or passive ability attached to it. When the gear is equipped, these abilities can be used. Completing a battle earns your team Ability Points. The equipment’s abilities are permanently learned after enough Ability Points are gained. Personally, I like this feature. It showcases the team’s diversity and makes it fun to build a favorite party. On the flipside, it’s a very grindy feature. If you move from story event to story event too quickly, then there’s a chance that you won’t have acquired any of the currently equipped gear’s abilities. Do you carry on and get the new gear? Or, do you run around a monster infested area and grind AP?
Battles in Final Fantasy IX use the traditional Active Time Battle system. Your team and the enemy team exchange attacks and magics back and forth until one side falls. Final Fantasy IX is lower on the difficulty scale most of the time. Bosses might be tricky for the unawares, but the robust ability system usually provides you with the right options to counteract their more annoying attacks. I enjoyed the classic battles. However, yet again, there are issues that I’m surprised I had the patience for during the PlayStation era. The first is their speed. Battles are slow as snail affairs no matter the situation. It takes nearly 30 seconds before you can even input a battle command. Of course, watching combat unfold takes long, too. The good news is that one of the boosters in the remaster allows you to triple the speed of the game. Battles go from slogs to enjoyable slugfests with the push of a button. Unfortunately, another major issue that can’t get remedied by boosters comes with our leading man. Zidane might be a thief, but he has the worst success rate at stealing anything. Want to steal everything a boss has on it? Prepare to read, “Couldn’t steal anything!” repeatedly. Is it necessary to steal everything? No, but his success rate shouldn’t be that low.
There are other gameplay boosters that can be activated at any time such as dealing 9999 points of damage, max gil, and no encounters. Perhaps the biggest “booster” of all comes with the presentation; Final Fantasy IX looks magnificent in HD. Beholding explosive spells, watching characters move more gracefully, and seeing stunning locations allows one of the best-looking games in the series to look even better. Littered through the game are glorious cinematic movies that advance the plot. When you finish the game, you’ll unlock a movie gallery that will allow you to watch your favorites at any time. The music remains unchanged, but the soundtrack has always been a classic so there aren’t any complaints there.
I finished this replay of Final Fantasy IX in 22 hours. Using some of the generous boosters made this possible. For this replay, I didn’t participate in the multitude of side-quests. The game is filled with things to do that can make the play time last nearly 100 hours. Despite my complaints about this game, there’s no denying that this is a solid edition in Square’s legendary franchise. There’s no way I’d ever be able to go back to the original version now that I’ve been spoiled by the remaster. If you’ve never played Final Fantasy IX or are in the mood to revisit it, then check out this remaster. There are some issues that are remedied by the enhancement boosters; some that aren’t. But, it still delivers a memorable experience all these years later.
Overall, 7.5/10: Gameplay boosters for the win. The classical fun of Final Fantasy IX is more accessible in this remaster thanks to modern, necessary additions.