Playing The Final Fantasies: Episode IX

Cast of Final Fantasy IX

DISCLAIMER ONE: I know that lately it may seem like I'm blogging about frivolous things like video games and concert reviews, but I assure you that original thoughts from my deranged mind haven't ceased, they just take much longer to formulate into written word.

DISCLAIMER TWO: Spoilers abound in here about this game. I'll try to keep it vague just in case. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.

A Brief Introduction

You can hardly call me a diehard Final Fantasy fan, but for some arbitrary reason I decided to play through as many of them as I can this summer. I'm no stranger to the series, having played 1-6 before but only ever completing 1, 2, 4, and 5. Of course, that means I'd missed out on some of the best installments in the series, namely the PlayStation One titles. 

I've always been a fan of the old-fashioned. Sprites and 16-bit tales are incredibly endearing to me. Seeing as how I hardly play anything but RPGs anymore, you can assume that I was very fond of the early titles in the FF franchise. Because of this, I was always reluctant to play the newer 3D games. The old man in me wanted to bark at them to remove themselves from my virtual lawn. Still, it makes no sense to deprive myself of some of the very best titles the series has to offer, so I decided to play through all of them, starting with IX (for you non-nerds, the series isn't strictly chronological; each game is a standalone affair).

This was a big step for me. I hardly ever go for 3D RPGs. All I knew were the sprites of old. I still had high hopes. In particular, Final Fantasy IX is a callback to the roots of the series. The franchise employed typical high fantasy elements such as dragons, wizards, and empires threatening to take over unsuspecting worlds, as well as a number of charming original ideas (Moogles, anyone?). However, starting with FF VI, the fantasy elements were exchanged for those of steampunk and technological advances. I shied away from the newer titles because of this. Like I said, I was very old-fashioned.

As mentioned, IX was a return to the ideas that made the franchise popular, doing away with the corporations and futuristic environments of the previous two installments, VII and VIII. So I thought it would be a good place to start, seeing as how it hearkened to the old days.

Needless to say, when this charming little ditty greeted my ears upon popping in the first disc, I was pretty much instantly hooked: 

Those flutes.

For these posts, I'm not going to explain the entire plot of each game and go into detail about how great the graphics are because I can see the reflections of my spells in my character's eyes when I cast them (you can't). All I will say about the graphics is that for my first 3D FF experience, it was very enjoyable. I loved the cutscenes:

Could never tell if Steiner was wearing eye makeup or not...

Within an hour of playing the game, I began to question myself as to why I had deprived myself of this game for so long. The overall tone of the game is admittedly much more lighthearted than its two predecessors, but I found it to be incredibly charming, especially since it was serving as my indoctrination into the "newer" FF titles. The characters are quirky and humor runs rampant. Instead of the brooding ex-soldier Cloud Strife (FF VII) or the completely uncaring and gunblade-wielding Squall Leonhart (FF VIII), you play as a happy-go-lucky traveling actor with a monkey's tail, by the name of Zidane. Also, he is quite full of himself and fancies himself as a ladies' man:

Reminds me of me - delusional.

All of the main characters were pretty lovable (even if Quina was obnoxious and Amarant felt added on). Each of them possessed rich backgrounds. From the austere and duty-bound knight Steiner to the mischievous and naive summoner Eiko, each character held a special place in my heart. I know it sounds absurd, but this game was the first to ever make me feel something. The subject's been beat to death, but as an old-fashioned gamer, I've never really experienced videogames as an art medium (other than watching an old college roommate play Metal Gear Solid 4). It was much easier to feel something for 3D models as opposed to sprites. Of course, the graphical advantages of the PlayStation allowed for prerendered backgrounds and intense cinematic sequences, whereas all the previous FF titles I'd played were extremely limited in these departments. Nevertheless, the game gripped me in a way that no game ever had before.

Then there was this guy:

Who knew something so adorable could be so awesome?

Vivi. He wasn't even the main character and he was my favorite. You know how in every book, movie, game, etc. there is always one character who stands above all the others in terms of overall awesomeness? Yeah, that's Vivi in this game. He easily replaced Cecil from FF IV as my all-time favorite character in the series.

Apart from his cool factor, the real reason Vivi captured my attention was because of his story. The dude has no idea where he came from and is shocked when at a certain point in the game he comes into contact with other members of his race, who he sadly discovers that they are nothing more than facsimiles manufactured to perform evil. We're not talking about a Jason Bourne-type "I don't know where I came from" - it's more of a Tarzan thing. Terrible comparisons aside, Vivi's character goes through pretty much the entire game pondering his existence and his purpose, wondering why there are others like him in appearance, who are completely unlike him. When he finally does learn the truth of his origin and his eventual future, it's truly a heartbreaking revelation.

I won't say much more about the game other than that as an introduction to the FF games that I haven't played, I don't believe I could have picked a better starting point - especially since I've played several more since I finished IX. It's a perfect balance of lightheartedness and saving the world, with the epic art styles and enjoyable cast to prove it. Minus the Trance ability, the card mini-game, and the randomness of the final boss, this game was pretty much perfect. I clocked about 33 hours into my file, not really putting time into sidequests and only stopping to grind two or three times. Next time, I'll put in hopefully twice as much. You can bet I'll be going back to it again soon.

As a parting gift, here's a battle scene because why not:

The music, every time.

Final Fantasy IX is a perfect place to start for those of you, like me, who tend to lean towards old-school RPGs. It's funny because IX is already 13 years old - heck, they're going to release XV soon - but I'm talking about in comparison to the classics, aka 1-6. It replaced IV as my all-time favorite, which is a big deal because IV was the first one I ever cared about because it got me into the series in the first place.

Thanks for reading! Next time, I'll talk about the next classic Final Fantasy title I played. Hint: it has the best villain in the entire franchise and you can get a Moogle as a playable character.

Prepare yourselves.


No comments:

Post a Comment