Final Fantasy IX PS4 Review
The 30th anniversary of the Final Fantasy series has been underway, with Square Enix celebrating the milestone of their critically acclaimed, long-running RPG franchise with mini events and cross media tie-ins….it may not be the next major gaming announcement, or even a new trailer of the highly anticipated Final Fantasy VII Remake, but it cannot be denied that the company isn’t paying attention to the significance that this year brings (while other major companies like Nintendo and Capcom let the anniversaries of their high popular franchises-Metroid and Mega Man, respectively-pass by without so much as a meaningful acknowledgement).
Whether it was part of the continuing celebrations or not, Square has just released Final Fantasy IX on the PS4 with little fanfare and even less warning during the week of TGS (Tokyo Game Show). Nonetheless, this latest port is a momentous occasion for longtime fans, as FFIX remains one of the higher acclaimed entries in the series (which has hit double digits by this point), even if it did not reach the same sales numbers as the more popular entries during its original PSX release. Featuring a unique Disney-esque visual aesthetic that has yet to be replicated with any of the numbered follow-ups as well as a masterfully-crafted story that combines charming characters with several nods and references to past games.
For those unaware, the story of Final Fantasy IX takes place in a more traditional fantasy setting, complete with knights and princesses, kingdoms and dungeons, and more wacky animal companions than the latest CGI flick from Dreamworks. The story follows Zidane, a monkey-tailed thief who is part of a gang masquerading as a theater troupe, who plans to kidnap the young princess of the Alexandrian kingdom, Garnet. In a surprising turn of events, the princess wants Zidane to steal her away from her tyrannical mother, who plans to use her latent Summoner abilities to conquer the rest of the land. Friendships are formed, love is blooming, tragic truths are unearthed…the story is an exciting journey that combines humorous moments with tenderhearted character studies. Basically, if you don’t find yourself stifling a tear or two regarding the quiet young Black Mage Vivi, you’re the real soulless doll.
The gameplay of FFIX follows the once-traditional aspect of turn-based gameplay, where the order of actions from both party members and enemies depend on an ever-scrolling action bar (thus earning it the name “Active Time Battle”). Each character specializes in a certain trait that makes them both unique and invaluable: Vivi can cast offensive magic, Garnet can summon massive deities, Zidane can steal loot from enemies, and so on. Earning experience points form battle yields additional abilities for each character, but there are also extra equipable actions that come from various pieces of equipment, such as a piece of armor that lets Steiner do extra damage to flying enemies or a wand that augments Garnet’s healing. The best part about this mechanic is that it isn’t necessary to wear these items forever: once an ability earns enough Ability Points (AP), it’s permanently tied to the character.
The PS4 version is a direct port of the recent PC release, which brings all the pros and cons associated with it. Character models and textures have been given a higher resolution facelift, but this also clashes with the pre-rendered backgrounds, which show their age with their blurry resolutions. The action window during battles have also been expanded to make choice selections easier…at the cost of taking up more screen space. There is also an additional issue to be found in the PS4 port in the form of an audio bug: when battling on the world map, the world map theme loops over from the start after every battle, rather than continue playing as it should. Curiously, this music looping issue was also found in the PS4 ports of Final Fantasy VII and X, despite the latter being a PS2 game. It is unclear when or if Square will ever address this issue, minor as it may be, since only Final Fantasy X was patched to correct its music glitch.
Though Final Fantasy IX’s PS4 port lacks the same love and care that was given to the recently released Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, it is still a solid enough re-release, and more importantly another modern source for players to experience this wonderful RPG classic, whether for the first time or the hundredth time. The timeless charm, characterization and content guarantees that this game will be the place you’ll return to someday, now and forever.