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Final Fantasy IX review
Exceptional
by Owen Helfer

Final Fantasy IX is the series' strongest showing yet. Everything about the game feels like a celebration of the series' history, culminating in this experience. The setting is unapologetically fantasy, eschewing the hi-tech contemporary settings of the previous two entries. This return to form allows for a wealth of content from which to draw inspiration, letting FFIX essentially cherry pick the best elements from past games. Of the countless homages to the series' roots, some standouts include the reappearance of classic mage outfits and the parallels between Kuja and Kefka.

The gameplay loop centers around using your equipment to learn different abilities. It is essentially a blend of the previous esper and materia systems. Like in Final Fantasy VII, abilities are linked to your armor and weapons. Rather than holding slots for materia items, however, this equipment acts similar to espers in Final Fantasy VI, granting abilities which can be used once enough experience is gained with that item. One key improvement made in FFIX is how the ability systems meshes with character traits and classes. In the past, allowing characters to learn new abilities at will erased their uniqueness in battle. That problem is not present in this game. Outside of abilities, characters have intrinsic battle styles and techniques which give them an original playstyle according to their class. As characters have these different classes, their sets of usable equipment are generally unique to them. Because abilities are learned from equipment, this means that the set of available abilities for one character will not be the same for others. Additionally, some abilities can only be learned by some characters, regardless of whether they can equip the armor. For example, only a white mage will have use for a gem which teaches a new summon, even though any party member can equip it. This introduces a system of trade-offs, deciding whether to use a sword with worse stats if it can give you access to a new spell or ability. This system creates an incredibly rewarding leveling pursuit, as experience goes to level up your party but also give them new powers.

Despite these strides made in the leveling loop, I would argue it is not the driving factor of Final Fantasy IX. This, of course, would be the story. FFIX synthesizes the most complimentary collection of heroes, villain, and setting that the series has seen. The typical fantasy world may not hold as much intrigue as say, Final Fantasy 7. However, the theme of the setting does not stand out as much as its variety does. The differing designs of Alexandria, Burmecia, Madain Sari, Lifa Tree, Terra, and the overworld make this world feel alive more than any other. Helping to populate this world is the diverse cast of party members joining you throughout. Each has a distinguishable identity and motive for joining you, although some may be more fleshed out than others. Despite the strengths of these heroes, the villain is truly what steals the show. As mentioned above Kuja is a more fully explored and realized iteration of Kefka from Final Fantasy VI. Given a fuller background and more distinct identity, Kuja serves as an excellent foil to your party. Further examining his character reveals that he is not even the primary villain in the game. In fact, there very well may not be one. At the center of this game's conflict is the matter of mortality itself. The catalyst and object of your quest is the people involved coming to terms with life, death, and their meanings. The entire events of the game stem from these questions, and I struggle to think of something harder to answer.

In all honesty, I was feeling very burnt out after finishing Final Fantasy VIII. I even started this game feeling unenthusiastic, just going through the motions to finish it. Final Fantasy IX was able to overcome this disenchantment and pull me deep into its world. The compelling mixture of improved gameplay and story elements crafted into a complete experience make this game a thoroughly worthwhile adventure, and a tragedy to pass up.
«That ending!»
«OST on repeat»

Other reviews4

This game, like all Final Fantasy games, is super addictive. Gameplay is great, and I love the open world aspect of the game. What really hurt this games value to me was the plot, and even more so, the execution of the plot. What awesome elements the first half introduces (apocalyptic monsters) just kind of get ignored in the second half. I personally felt the last boss battle was just thrown in there to have a big baddie in the game, and had no plot value and actually if anything muddied the existing plot. If this was plot wise only, it would definitely not be rated well, but the gameplay definitely picks up the slack. Ultimately this is a game I would recommend for existing final fantasy fans, but not outside the fan base.
«Just one more turn»
«Can’t stop playing»
Favorite game of all time. Great characters and story!
It was the first FF tittle that I played and was what definitely got me hooked on JRPG in the PlayStation 1 heydays. Although I wouldn't play it again nowadays anyone heart in into JRPG should give this a go. 
«Just one more turn»
«Beaten more than once»