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Game Reviews & Afterthoughts

Final Fantasy 9 Review
Are the unmatched art direction and graphics worth going back to play?

 

Game Information
Name Final Fantasy 9
Console PlayStation
Developer Squaresoft
Publisher Square Eletronic Arts
Genre RPG
Release Date Nov. 14, 2000
# of Players 1
Peripherals Mem Card

Fans of RPG games, worldwide, had been anticipating the release of Final Fantasy 9 the day after Final Fantasy 8 was released. Gamers hold the Final Fantasy series in the highest regard and use it as the benchmark when comparing all role playing games. Naturally, Final Fantasy 9 falls in the catagory of few elite games that deserve a retro review. The fact that a game is branded with the Final Fantasy name is a sign of quality in itself. The music, graphics, story and gameplay all have a legacy to live up to, and thankfully in Final Fantasy 9, they do. This is certainly reassuring, considering the fact that Squaresoft has upped the anti in terms of the time between each new Final Fantasy game release. Originally it would be 2 years between each new game, but Final Fantasy 9 had come to the public only 13 months after 8's release. Obviously there is no complaining here, as long as the quality in the games maintains.

The PlayStation just seems to be the machine that continues to produce better graphics everyday. With the release of FF9, a new benchmark is created. The art direction, realtime graphics and FMV's are a sight to behold. There are games on Dreamcast that don't even look this good. That being said, you know a game has excellent graphics, especially for its time, when it can be played a generation after, without leaving the player annoyed at the visuals. There are still the same, standard, prerendered backgrounds that realtime characters run on. While this is nothing new, or even spectacular, the art direction by the artists at Squaresoft is what makes this game stand out above all others. Even though the scenes typically are just pictures, while you run around them with the characters, each scene is full of emotion and life. Moving on, its nice to see a slight enhancement in the battle screen graphics. Characters and monsters have upgraded detail from previous Final Fantasy's, and the game seems to run smoother as well. The effects are right on par with all other great RPG's on the PlayStation, and a few of them are even better. The only possible annoyance one could have with the graphics, when playing this game in the modern day, would be the text throughout the game. The text seems to be very large and plain. This is fine, except for this 'average' text stands out when everything else in the game is surrounded by polish and brilliance. As for the final issue on visuals, the full motion video's (FMVs) that Squaresoft is famous for, surely deliver here. Players are treated to some breathtakingly beautiful FMVs every 30 or so minutes of gameplay. If the story, characters, or music doesn't captivate you, these FMVs are enough to make you continue your journey on. They are just that good. Obviously the artists at Squaresoft were a generation ahead of everyone when they created them.

Audio Sample
Track 1:
Track 2:

The famous Nobuo Uematsu is back again, with the music behind yet another Final Fantasy game. The soundtrack this time is much different from the earlier FF7 & 8 games, although rightfully so. The two previous games were much more serious and realistic, while FF9 definitely takes place in a fantasy world, and the music helps give that extra atmosphere to it. The towns all have a jazzy/ragtime feel to them. It works alright, but is definitely the weakest part of the soundtrack. The strong parts are obviously the music in outside areas, the character's themes, and the battle music. Final Fantasy 9 features perhaps the best battle music of the series to date. It's the same old style and melody with a nice re-arrangement. Nobuo did a fabulous job on the love theme as well. Several times throughout the game, players will enjoy a remixed version of it, either by instruments or even human voice. As for the sound side of things, the sound is there, not much to be said on it. It fits perfectly, and thats all that matters.

Learning Curve
Game Difficulty:
Medium
Game Length:
40 Hours

Nothing really new or special here, at least in terms of standard Final Fantasy gameplay. You follow the story, rip your hair out from the endless random battles and praise the game when you finally get the airship. The only real gameplay worth speaking about is the battle and customization systems. First the battle system. It seems to have gone back to the roots of Final Fantasy 7, with limit breaks, simply called "Trance mode" now. They are slightly evolved however, in that Trance bars can be filled instantly if a player get very emotional. This is a very nice idea when worked in with the story. For example, if two characters who are very close (in the story) are in a battle together, and something happens to one, say they die, the other character will get extremely emotional and go into instant trance mode. While in trance mode, each character has special trance moves. For example, Vivi can do double cast on any of his magic spells. While this may take twice the MP, its basically two turns in one. Trance lasts a certain number of turns, 3 to be exact.

The second part of the game where players will spend a lot of time in, is customization of their characters and party. The most noticeable change right off the start is that party's can now have up to four people, instead of the previous three maximum. This all leads to a faster battle and more action/strategy. As for the customization, again Final Fantasy 9 goes back to previous roots and allows characters to customize with tons of abilities depending on which weapons/items and items they have equipped. These skills can be permanently learned through the acquisition of AP (Ability Points). Players will select which skill all new AP goes to learning, and once the AP is earned, that character permanently has that skill. Because of this, there is added strategy in choosing weapons and armor. Sometimes the most strongest is not always the most desired, as weaker equipment may have better skills attached to it.

Does it get any better than this? Not on PlayStation, thats for sure. An entire package of excellent music, graphics, story and gameplay. Virtually no slow down and considerable loading times. This game screams classic all over it. While many developers struggle to deliver quality on a single CD game, Squaresoft has done it yet again on a full 4 CD long RPG. The entire game, from the intro, to the final boss, is polished to a glowing shine. You won't find bugs or freezing here, you won't find spelling errors either. As said above, the game features 4 full disc's of classic Final Fantasy fun. All in all, those 4 disc's lend themselves to hours upon hours of playing time. Many games aren't a third as long as FF9, which makes it a great value for any person deciding between buying this classic and renting it. The answer is quite obvious, a sure buy.

 

 

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John Palamarchuk ©2006
http://www.palamarchuk.com