Genre: Japanese Rpg
Platform: Playstation 1, PSN
The Final Fantasy series has always been one that has divided opinion. Ever since it has arrived in the west, there have been those that dislike them for their turn-based game play and complicated storylines and those that adored them for their unique characters and epic worlds they depicted. As a fan of the series I suppose you could say it was difficult for me to pick out just one….although FF7 was the game that introduced me to the series, it wasn’t until Final Fantasy 9 that came to realise just how incredible and influential on myself they actually were.
Final Fantasy 9 follows the story of a young thief called Zidane, who is part of a gang of thieves who plan to stage an elaborate plot to kidnap the princess of the city of Alexandria. This is only the start however and things soon develop into an epic adventure that takes Zidane and his companions across the world as they slowly come to realise that the kidnap plot was part of a much bigger picture, involving the conflict between nations and ultimately the fate of the world as they know it.
The story of FF9 is very easy to get absorbed into, and this is due in part by the characters that you meet and are developed along the way. From the womanising thief in the main protagonist Zidane, the tentative mage Vivi and to the bizarre chef Quina, every character you come across in this game, regardless of whether they play a large part in the story or not, each have just that; Character. Their all so outlandishly designed, a far cry from the ultra -realistic characters seen in the series’ latest instalment, but this makes them unique and the human qualities that each one embodies is more recognisable than the 50 billion polygon creations of this generation. there are too many scenes to choose just one of, but very simple scenes involving interaction of the games characters and a simple dialogue box evoke more of a reaction out of the immersive experience of this game without actually putting that much effort into the technical side of showing it. You actually care about the fate of Vivi, the black mage who discovers the truth behind his origins and begins to doubt the reasons for him existing at all. Isn’t that something we can all relate to? The age old question of ‘Why are we here?’ is captured brilliantly in just one of this games expansive cast, and the tragic nature of his found answers is what compels you to keep playing; not only to find out about Vivi, but every other character in the game who is developed to this degree, from start to finish.
The setting for IX was also a very unique change of direction from what previous instalments were heading towards, with more futuristic and modern worlds. IX went back to its roots with a more medieval setting with its emphasis on kingdoms and overall style of the environments it depicted. Even the airships, that are a continuing theme in the series, were designed in such a way that they looked like if airships were invented in medieval times that they would look like the ones you see in this game. Even though the final fantasy games have always mixed up magic with technology in the worlds they depicted, the focus on this instalment seems to be how magic is being used to fuel technology and in so being turned into weapons for war. This reflects on how this instalment was definitely a look back to the very first games in the series and how the simplicity of those could be translated into this newer game, and still be successful as something new, whilst at the same time paying respects as a homage to the games before it that paved the way.
The gameplay of Final Fantasy IX is the same system that has been utilised in many previous instalments, with battles taking place in random encounters when you are travelling in the games Overworld map. Battles are determined by the ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge under each characters health, that when full determines that characters turn to act in the battle. Its more dynamic than the usual ‘turn-based’ style of a lot of JRPG’s, though the random and menu based system of combat will only appeal to those that love this genre and style of game, and this is probably where it will divide opinion. Although the menu based combat wont appeal to non-fans of the JRPG genre, the method of developing your character is the simplest one seen in the series in a long time, and despite the easy to get into system, its nevertheless satisfying and addictive to master, appealing to newcomers of the game without overwhelming them with baffling menus.
Final Fantasy is always going to appeal to some people more than others, but at the end of the day, if what your after in a game is a sense of adventure, a great story and world to immerse yourself into with a wonderfully varied cast of characters… then I couldn’t recommend a game more perfect than this. A great introduction into a series of games that, love them or hate them, stand the test of time and continue to go strong and spread their influence today