Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: December 21, 2000
One of the most enduring series of roleplaying games ever, the Final Fantasy series has already survived several platform transitions with minimal difficulty. With Final Fantasy IX, Square is again preparing to leap free off their main system, and thus this offering is the last of the series to appear on the original PlayStation. For many in the target audience, this transition means the end of an era, since the PlayStation titles have been the most publicly recognized, and the older Nintendo offerings appeared “before their time.” Thus, it’s not incredibly surprising that Square decided to make Final Fantasy IX a nostalgic tribute to the past. This decision, however, will unsettle those who’ve grown used to the high-tech worlds found in the previous two games, as the series has whole heartedly returned to its fantasy roots.
Our story begins with a group of actors led by the charismatic rogue, Zidane, and their plot to kidnap princess Garnet of Alexandria during their performance of this year’s most popular play. As Zidane scours the castle for the princess he finds her, cloaked and skulking out of the castle on her own. As a three partied pursuit breaks out, with Steiner, the captain of the Knights of Pluto chasing down Zidane, and the rogue chasing down the princess. Garnet eventually reveals to her pursuer that she desperately wants to be kidnapped by the acting group, and with their goals unified, a daring escape is made in the troupe’s airship. Unfortunately it is badly damaged in the escape and crashes into the ominously named “Evil Forest.”
From there, the story unfolds with a combination of in-game and pre-rendered cutscenes that drive the plot. Players familiar with the Square philosophy of storytelling will know to expect an intricate plot with multiple twists and unexpected developments; others will probably be able to surmise a lengthy story by the inclusion of four discs. In order to weave this chapter in the saga, some new elements have been introduced to augment the story’s progression. The usual device of switching active party members is slightly more predominant in Final Fantasy IX than other chapters, but more instrumental to the plot is the introduction of Active Time Events. Whenever an important event takes place away from the party, the player is given the option to view it. The ATE’s can be ignored if the player wishes, but they often offer hints and expand the plot. Similarly, those looking to find out more about their surroundings will wish to take advantage of “Mognet.” An obvious parody of the Internet, Mognet is the means by which Moogles transfer letters to one another. Since the system has been sporadically functional, the moogles will often turn to Zidane for help delivering their correspondence, and delivered letters can be read for more information regarding the world.
Of course, those familiar with the Final Fantasy series will recognize the plethora of mini games found throughout the adventure. The earliest example of these diversions takes place in the square outside the castle at the beginning of the story. Three small children with extensive savings accounts are skipping and invite Vivi the black mage to join them. While this is completely optional, those who participate will be rewarded with gil, the ubiquitous Final Fantasy currency, as they make successive jumps. Similarly, another part of the opening features Zidane and Blank dueling in a mock sword fight. At Blank’s prompting, the user must use a combination of the buttons and digital controller to act out the scene. This mini game isn’t optional, however players uninterested in mastering the controls can simply muck up the scene and carry on. Those who perfect their timing and make no mistakes will find themselves showered with gil by the appreciative crowd. For those who detest “twitch” offerings, some solace will be found in the return of the card game introduced in Final Fantasy VIII.