42nd game played so far
Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Playstation 1
Year of Release: 2000
So here we are, part three of our Final Fantasy playthrough trilogy from games donated earlier. After Final Fantasy VII, the adventures of disjointed steampunky Cloud, and Final Fantasy VIII, or Final Fantasy in a school, we are now back to the fantasy roots of the series, with Final Fantasy IX having you kidnap a princess (sort of) and has you battling mages and sticks to many other fantasy tropes. A different setting, but the one the Final Fantasy designers most want to create a sequel to when they get a chance. Do we agree, though? Here’s our thoughts after five hours of play.
That game took a while to get going. Kupo. I most certainly did, kupo, but it finally got going after the first (rather dull) three hours of gameplay.
In particular, after we got through a rather annoying Ice Cave dungeon. I don’t think it helped that the first member of the Black Waltz was a rather tricky customer. It really did help when we got in a bit of exploration and found better weapons and abilities, the fact that we went into trance (this game’s version of overdrive) about two turns into the sub-boss battle.
However, it took us three tries to get that far, and with a rather boring cutscene before the battle, it got annoying. Still, we made it, and it felt like a true victory. The moment that ice/dragon/snake/bastard thing fell to the floor there was a minor ripple of joy felt amongst us at Pong and Beyond. There might have been some audible cheering.
I don’t think it helped matters that we had played the previous two Final Fantasy games in the last month or so. Both of which are regarded critically as being better outings of the franchise. In a way a rash comparison was always going to happen. This is grossly unfair since every Final Fantasy (whilst maintaining some hallmarks) are essentially different games with new character, surroundings and mythology. In fact apart from Moogles, Chocobo and the name Cid there are few thematic elements which regularly reoccur in the series. In a sense, this game goes back a step by actually having a fantasy world (with some steampunk elements) where the last two games were fully steampunk, if not getting closer to sci-fi.
With the exception of the airships powered by ‘mist’ there are very few prominent machines in the earlier reaches of the games. There are some which will not be mentioned here for the sake of preventing spoilers. Trust me – this time there’s no trains. As opposed to the train fetishes from the past two games… god, they could’ve called it Train Fantasy then… If there had been gratuitous shots of trains entering tunnels then I would agree with you… but no.
Anyway, the fantasy world is nicely worked out, giving magic a larger role and involving it nicely in the larger plot. In that sense, the game is also far more simplified – unlike the earlier games, you just set what abilities you want to learn (based on your equipment and the character) and it happens automatically. No junctions, magic assigning or anything else, instead a simple system that forces each character to play its own role. No long tutorials needed. The only tutorials you get are at the hand of a wise Moogle. These are portioned during the first 4 hours of gameplay and are given in a very straightforward manner (and, thankfully, short). If here are any troubles or questions all you need to do is hit SELECT on the menu screen and there is a short description of what it is you are looking at. The adjustment of the learning curve is a welcome relief after VII and VIII.
There is a lot to be said of a well done simple system compared to a unique but complex one. It also helps that Final Fantasy IX saw the introduction of who may well be the cutest and the saddest and funniest character to ever grace a JRPG; Vivi. One of the members of the Pong and Beyond team might be pushed out in his favour, following several “I love Vivi” squeals. This is only because Jeroen does not possess a large floppy hat and get easily flustered. Only sometimes.
At the beginning I found Vivi a touch annoying but he’s the character who I was able to easily connect with during the gameplay. The others seem to be either stock characters or (in the case of Dagger/Garnet) remarkably dull. I wish we had gotten as far to the introduction of Quina Quen as they look rather unique. Steiner is the goofy tank character, who’s incredibly loyal, and stole my heart with his antics as well, making that another favourite.
Unfortunately we’re unable to spend that much more time on the games, although I’m certainly considering going on to give it another try later (once I can get access to the games then). The main problem with the game that nearly made us throw it out early is that the game starts off incredibly slow. (Something that partially applies to the start of the battle… loading times are awful) For the first few hours, you don’t have a reason to connect to the characters. They’re stereotypes involved in a simple ‘Kidnap the princess’ plot. The personalities seem generic and while there’s some clever wrapping, the plot itself doesn’t drag you in.
It’s only when the more macabre side of the game begins (involving the factory line production of black mages) that it begins to work out. This does not exactly make up for the large amount of blank screen time that occurs during gameplay but it does mean you are looking forward to what’s on the other side of the blackness. Except for the battles… which are a colossal pain in the behind sometimes. Yeah. The battles are slow anyway, but the black screens before we can even start takes a long time and gets annoying. And when you’re in the battle it’s slow enough that everyone else has gotten their turn again once you have played out the animation for one character.
Speaking of cutscenes, the gap separating the graphics is remarkably reduced compared to previous outings. By the time we reach Final Fantasy X the gap is nearly gone. Yeah. The graphics have greatly improved again. While Final Fantasy VIII went for realism to make the game look better for longer, here they go for a similar art style to Final Fantasy VII (though less exaggerated), but executed in a way that looks better even now. It looks pretty good if you ask me. Unfortunately we didn’t get far enough to see any summoning graphics (which could’ve been interesting), but all spell animations we saw were impressive.
I think the mage animations on the whole were impressive. Zidane was probably the east convincing of the bunch… but it didn’t help that he was some sort of monkey-boy thing. He was supposed to look different, something that they were going into further. He still looked distinctive and interesting, and certainly didn’t stand out as such a bad design. In cut scenes though he was graphically the worst rendered if you ask me. Yeah, unfortunately, but not too badly so in what I’ve seen.
Last comment, the music. The battle music, at least, wasn’t as inspiring as in any games. It didn’t fit into the feeling of the game at all. When you are in a slightly quaint village you wouldn’t expect the intrusive synths. We played with sound turned down for most of the game for this reason. It wasn’t inspiring or felt right, it didn’t work well here.
It’s a good game once you give it time – something that isn’t too bad considering this game will easily take you 20-30 to get through fully – but you need to have the persistence to have it grow on you.
So that’s it. The game is lovely – great graphics, several adorable characters and an interesting setting. It’s slow to start, and later on especially battles are rather slow. Once you get past the first dungeon, however, things pick up (or at least they did for us) and you get into an intriguing plot where anyone who doesn’t like Vivi can’t be called a decent human being. Nobody has to like Dagger, though. We’ve seen too many spunky princesses for that.