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Final Fantasy IX Review
«Thanks to Final Fantasy: Worlds Apart for this review»

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    "Visually, Final Fantasy IX is undoubtedly the best in the series"
    It has:
  • Technically and artistically stunning graphics (the best I've ever seen)
  • Endearing, well-developed characters
  • A complex narrative encompassing references from throughout the entire series
  • The most refined battle system the series has seen
  • Fantastic Ability system that strikes an ingenious balance between unique character classes and customisation
  • Stunning music; probably Nobuo Uematsu's greatest yet

And, at the same time, Final Fantasy IX disappoints, and I just don't know why. At the end of Final Fantasy VI, VII and VIII, I was left with an incredibly depressing feeling. A feeling of "I can't believe it's over." For whatever reason, that I simply cannot explain, Final Fantasy IX doesn't leave me with this feeling. For whatever reason, it just leaves me with the feeling of indifference. Maybe it's because Final Fantasy IX as a whole doesn't feel as fresh and inspiring as previous titles did. I truly don't know why it is that I feel this way, but I can't deny that this feeling is there, and it's saddening.

I'll get a little more in depth.

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Maybe the battle pixelation is because of the higher character count...?
Initially, the graphics are slightly underwhelming. The pre-rendered backgrounds look amazing, and the characters are superbly modelled and animated, but the battle graphics are surprisingly pixelated and generally quite scruffy in appearance. You'll soon get used to it, however, and the absolutely gorgeous spell/summon effects balance things out somewhat. The pre-rendered backgrounds, as I said, are amazing - but I'll be a bit more specific. It's been said about Final Fantasy VII & VIII, but the amount of detail in Final Fantasy IX is truly staggering - far exceeding its immediate predecessors. There are loads of little atmospheric details and the beautiful, smooth animations add much to make the world feel very alive. FMV sequences aren't really improved over FFVIII, but frankly they didn't NEED to be improved. Visually, Final Fantasy IX is undoubtedly the best in the series.

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Not as complex as the Junction System - but maybe that's a good thing?
In terms of gameplay, Final Fantasy IX's greatest facet is that it's the first system in any RPG to create a complete 50/50 balance between customisation and unique character skills. Each character has a set class, and only certain abilities can be learned from certain characters. Some abilities are for all characters (such as prevention of status effects), but the most important abilities (magic, HP/MP+, etc.) are character-specific. This forces the player to think more carefully about the type of party members he/she should train and increase levels for. Final Fantasy IX's system isn't as complex nor as involving as the Junction System (for me at least), but it's more balanced, and lateral thinking is required if you're going to get far in the game, so don't just expect to blast through it without doing ANY micromanaging. It's still a very prevalent aspect to the gameplay. The dungeons are the most enjoyable in the series to date: not only do they have amazing atmosphere (thanks to the graphics and music), but they can also be quite inventive at times, and interactive elements are introduced quite regularly. On top of this, Final Fantasy IX brings that thing called 'difficulty' back into the series - I died on many occasions. It's never really frustrating, though. Contrary to that, it's very satisfying. Pack in a load of VERY fun and addictive mini-games, and you have what is probably the best gameplay (overall) in the series.

Musically, Nobuo Uematsu has done an amazing job. It won't be to everyone's liking (for whatever unfathomable reason), but for the select few who enjoyed Uematsu's shift in musical direction from FFVI, it will be amazing. I won't get detailed on this particular area - I'll save that for a soundtrack review when I eventually get it. Just to say that, in my humble opinion, this is the best music ever to accompany a Final Fantasy - and any GAME, for that matter.

Zidane, the character shown here, is supposedly the main character.
The characters are consistently endearing and all play some kind of role in the story. Contrary to the general consensus, Final Fantasy IX DOES have a main character and it is Zidane. Zidane is the character you are always forced to have in your party, just like Cloud and Squall. My personal favourites were Vivi and Garnet. I don't want to spoil, but for all Final Fantasy IX's supposed humour-orientation, it has some very tragic scenes. And if that wasn't enough, the villain is undoubtedly one of the best ever in the series (though the end battle is a little weak in comparison to VI-VIII, if you ask me).

Now we move onto the biggie: the story. Really, this is the one area that I don't feel comfortable judging, simply because it hasn't blown me away like before. It's a very complex story, and it's very well-told, but it just didn't awe me as much as previous titles did. This perception, of course, will probably change over time, and I'm hoping that playing it in English will be a more enthralling experience. But it must be made clear that I played Final Fantasy VIII in Japanese, and was more amazed than I had ever been by a game.

An overall judgement? Due to my somewhat confused feelings on the story, I find it impossible to rank in the series, currently. I will, however, say that it's an incredible game - one of the best ever. I just don't know how it compares to my current three favourites (VI, VII & VIII), and probably won't be able to decide fully until I play it in English.

For anyone interested, I finished it at just under 50 hours with four characters between levels 65-66 and the remaining four in the low 30s.