Random Game Wednesdays: Final Fantasy IX (Nintendo Switch)

Sometimes the random number generator that decides what I write for this feature is cruel. Today, it selected Final Fantasy IX, a long Japanese role-playing game, and one that I’ve already beaten. So what do I do, play the beginning again? But for what purpose, I’m not getting a new first impression out of it. Do I just load up my save? What will that do, other than look at what the end of the last dungeon looks like? It’s also not fresh enough in my mind to write an actual formal review of it. So, here’s me just rambling about FFIX for like 700 words or so.

Of the original PlayStation Final Fantasy games, IX was always my least favorite. I don’t know if my early high school self just couldn’t deal with the shift from the broody characters to the more silly ones of IX, but I just couldn’t get into it. And that’s a weird complaint in retrospect, having played through the Switch port as a 33 year old and seeing that below the silly exterior is one of the darkest Final Fantasy games.

While it starts with a fun group of traveling performers who also apparently pull off heists (like kidnapping princesses) quickly turns into horrific atrocities and characters questioning what life even is. Vivi, one of the standout characters in the game, is a black mage that looks like the just like that character class looked in the old 2D games. That’s cute, but then he learns that black mages are essentially robot soldiers serving the game’s villains, completely changing his perspective and his reason for being in this fight. Another moment sees the villains using traditional Final Fantasy summon Odin to basically nuke one of the towns. It’s some heavy stuff.

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Along with the main story, several smaller side stories pop up throughout the adventure These are a little weird, but I think they work out well. Basically, when you’re walking around as whatever character the story currently has you playing as, you’ll get pop-ups that tell you about one of these side stories. These will show you what other characters who aren’t currently in your party are up to. While being pulled away from what you’re working on is a little jarring, it helps make the game’s world feel bigger.

Outside of the story, most of your time will be spent in turn-based combat. Final Fantasy IX uses the series’ Active Time Battle system, where you have to wait for a meter to fill up before you can use a character. This means that sometimes enemies will get multiple hits in between your turns, or the other way around too. As you take hits, you build up a “trance” meter, which replaces the last couple games’ “limit break” system. When that fills, your character enters Trance mode, giving them extra abilities for a limited amount of time.

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The combat itself isn’t anything too special, but the way you progress is pretty interesting. The equipment you use has abilities tied to them, such as magic spells. With the equipment on, you can use those abilities, but you lose them when you take them off. However, as you fight, you gain AP, or ability points, that goes towards you learning those abilities permanently. It’s pretty cool, but I did find it kind of frustrating that I often had equipment with better stats waiting to go, but hadn’t finished learning all the abilities.

As this is the Nintendo Switch version, there’s some obvious graphical upgrades from the PlayStation original. Unfortunately, it’s not all that great. Character models are vastly improved, making them stand out well on an HD console. Backgrounds however don’t seem to have been touched at all. So, you’ve got these wonderful HD models standing on muddy backgrounds, and it just looks lazy. Certainly doesn’t ruin the game, but it is a weird issue. My understanding is that this is true of all the current console ports, but I only played on Switch.

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Overall, Final Fantasy IX is still a great game all these years later. It kind of bums me out that I didn’t give it more of a chance when it first came out. But now that it’s on modern platforms, it’s pretty easy for anyone to pick it up and see what it’s all about.

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