Kyle’s got opinions. FYI, he’s also got Final Fantasy IX spoilers.
It’s no secret that Final Fantasy IX (FFIX) wasn’t as beloved as some of the other Final Fantasy games on PlayStation. Looking at the sales for FFVIII and FFX, that much is clear. If you include the entire franchise, it might not even crack the top 5 favorites for many people.
Now, I know that FFIX might have fallen through the cracks with the arrival of the PS2. I also know the character design was a turn-off, and the PlayOnline strategy guide made people want to scream. Yet, if you look past those missteps, there are some truly special parts of this game that everyone should appreciate.
1. The Villains Are Fantastic
It can be hard to make a good villain, but Final Fantasy IX did it right.
Right off the bat, you have the power-hungry Queen Brahne, who is pretty vicious in her own right. Well, at least she controls an army and has no problem unleashing them on people. And while she might seem like the real problem at the outset of the game, you quickly learn she’s not the most dangerous person around.
Then, there’s Kuja, the devil whispering in her ear. He comes off like he is straight out of a Shakespearean play, but he is actually incredibly powerful.
Long story short, this guy is an “Angel of Death” with the task of causing discord in the world and depopulating it with violence. He turns Queen Brahne into a puppet for that purpose while also using his army of black mages to wreak havoc. Not only did this guy read The Art of War, but he has insane personal powers of destruction. R.I.P Terra.
The game has tons of minor villains like Garland, Zorn and Thorn, the Black Waltzes, and Beatrix, too. They’re all well-designed and very fun to fight against.
2. Party Composition Makes a Difference
The characters’ skills had a big impact on who I chose for my party in Final Fantasy IX. In fact, I don’t think I had to put as much thought into that aspect of the game since Final Fantasy VI. Since everyone has skills that are tied to their specific class and can only learn extra abilities based on their role, you have to plan ahead for some fights.
Sure, you can roll through with a haymaker party like Steiner, Vivi, Zidane, and Amarant if you want. But, it’s still a good idea to consider adding some balance like a summoner or white mage for those crazy boss fights. It was cool to try out different combinations and have them work better (or worse) for different fights.
3. The Enemies Are Awesome
As much as the bosses were badasses in this game, the regular enemies were great, too. There is nothing worse than having to fight enemies that are boring or poorly designed. Fortunately, this game focused a lot on making the monsters and enemies you faced cool-looking, thematic, or interesting for a number of reasons.
Aside from minor bosses like the Black Waltzes (that were simply badass), you could encounter creatures like Grand Dragons that could waste your party at the right levels as well as creatures that were actually friendly. Seriously, you could give gems to monsters for AP (a form of experience) and then get another gem.
4. The Active Time Events
Do you ever wonder what some of your characters do when they aren’t in your party? Well, the Active Time Events let you do just that. While you were wandering around a new city, you could see what is going on with your characters, learn more about side characters, and get a new perspective on the dynamics of your group.
While some people could say that the ATEs were distracting, I found them to be pretty pleasant because they helped fill in the story.
5. Mognet and Moogle Save Points
Moogles didn’t get to do much in Final Fantasy VII or VIII, but they came back in droves for this game.
They served two important functions. First, they are your source of save points in the game, slapping down a big, leather-bound book to track your exploits. Since Mog was one of my favorite characters in Final Fantasy VI, I was thrilled to see the moogles come back in such a fashion. Especially after they were briefly turned into cats in FFVIII.
The other cool thing about moogles was Mognet. That is what the moogles call their mail system. You can act as a mail carrier for them, too. You get rewards for delivering mail, and before you know it, you have a lot of little fans and you start remembering their names.
6. The Style Was Simply Spectacular
The tagline for Final Fantasy IX was “The Crystal Comes Back.” Part of that was literal and part of it was about going back to the roots of the franchise.
That meant we got away from the worlds of science fiction and started to go back to fantasy. Well, kinda. We got a cool hodgepodge of Steampunk and medieval along with whatever you want to call Terra and Memoria. (I try not to get caught up in the labels.)
The skies are full of airships, there are theater troupes traipsing through the halls of castles, and there’s a tree so big that anthropomorphic rat people live in it and it’s protected by a giant sandstorm.
There’s no doubt that the game was unified by its cartoon-like art style, but the cities looked and felt unique in each of the main kingdoms.
The problem that many people had with the art style was that it can look childish. It looks like the art you would expect to find in a storybook; there are lots of bright colors, misshapen buildings, and goofy-looking characters.
That was all part of the fun because the game really is like a fairytale or a comedy play — the world gives you a feeling that everything is going to be alright. That doesn’t mean that the game isn’t filled with crazy, horrible moments, because it is.
7. Eidolons, the Summons, Are Fantastic
The summons in Final Fantasy IX are not only useful, but they’re cool-looking and play a major role in the story. Part of Kuja’s plan is to enslave the eidolons and use them to wreak havoc across the world, kill lots of people, and look like a badass while doing it. That leads to the awesome scene you see up top in that picture.
While that fight is short-lived, it’s one of many cool scenes involving Eidolons in the game.
Your summoners, Garnet and Eiko, are the only party members that can control these monsters for you. Not only are those characters important to the story because they are summoners, but they’re also people you’ll want in your party because of their summoning powers. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on Garnet summoning Ark, basically a Transformer, and laying waste to people.
So, not only are the summons big in the story, they’re useful in battle, and they look cool as hell.
8. Great Characterization
Before you even start the game, you’ll see screens that feature the characters’ greatest dilemmas. Some of them are more significant than others, like the little kid wondering about the meaning of life. It’s kinda harsh, but the game does a great job at making you understand the characters and their problems.
Princess Garnet knows she is going to be queen, but she doesn’t like the idea of being stuck in some lofty position and never getting to live on her own. Throughout the game, her decisions reflect her desire to experience freedom, starting with her running away from home on her birthday, right into the arms of a kidnapping plot.
A loyal knight from Garnet’s kingdom, Steiner, knows deep down that he is serving a selfish monster of a queen. He gets swept along in the adventure, too. Over time, he’s less loyal to the kingdom and more loyal to the princess, but it happens in increments.
To me, the characterization in this game is really on-point because it has each member of your party facing big issues, like existence, and coming out on the other side after making peace with their problems, changing into a more assured person or just dealing with uncertainty.
Even the “flattest” character, Quina, has a personality that involves being so carefree and obnoxious that by the end of the game, you’re sure that is the core of his/her being. Quina has a vicious stubbornness that won’t be beaten down by anyone.
And while each character has a dilemma, that’s not the entirety of their being, for the most part. Sure Zidane is a good guy that likes to help people, but you also see him at his worst when he realizes what he was born to do: be a killer like Kuja. These characters have layers, and I love them for it.
9. The “Big” Moments Hit Hard
Cool moments in video games only matter when they have some weight behind them. I think Final Fantasy IX was really able to lift the mood for players in one moment and then dash it across the ground the next.
One of the first “big” moments I think of is when you go to Burmecia and get the living daylights beaten out of you by General Beatrix, the leader of Alexandria’s army. You go into the fight thinking you have half a chance of stopping Queen Brahne, but the battle ends with your characters face-down in the rainy city square.
You recover and go to save a town called Cleyra before it’s invaded by Alexandria. You fight off some of the invasion, not realizing it’s all a ruse to get their hands on a dark matter to summon an eidolon. Queen Brahne gets it, summons Odin, and levels the whole damn place. It really makes you feel like you’re facing an insurmountable force.
The game is filled with moments like this where you get unlikely reunions, a stroke of luck here and there, and then get devastated because, well, things aren’t always going to work out for the best.
And you feel these highs and lows because the story pulls you in, the graphics in the FMVs are good, and you can’t be sure that you’re going to come out on top from a specific situation.
Hot Take: If this game had an art style like Final Fantasy VII, it would cause some serious depression. Watching Cleyra get vaporized in a cartoony world was one thing, but it would probably be nightmarish with a more realistic style.
Final Fantasy IX is probably not the favorite entry into the series for a lot of people. I know it’s not for me. But whether you skipped over it for the graphics or just didn’t get too invested into the game, it might be worth taking some time to look at it again. In my opinion, it’s well deserved.