Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Review: Final Fantasy 9

New year, old game. This time we’re wrapping up with the last of the PS1 entries, Final Fantasy IX. I'm a huge fan of it, so I was stoked to revisit it. As usual, we should check what you knew and expected going into it.

Ooh! I got this one. So I’d seen some of the main character designs and I eventually twigged that there was sort of this vague Wizard of Oz vibe about them. There’s a spunky heroine, a lion-like boy, a tin man looking dude and a mysterious lil demi-human in a scarecrow-like hat! You told me that was no coincidence. I honestly thought that would dictate a little more how the story was gonna turn out, but it’s nice that it did its own thing. I also knew this to be one of the more favoured FF entries, like there's major two schools of FF fans: People who like FF7, 8 and 10 and people who like FF6, 9 and 12. It’s kinda like the Zelda divide. I liked FF6 more than 7 so I guess I'm expecting to enjoy this one.

The second greatest cultural divide.
Pretty much, yeah. Unfortunately, one side of the divide is packed with commercially successful crowd-pleasers, and the other one... isn't. When you're into the wrong side of that divide, it can be a little frustrating. You kind of touched on the characters a little bit earlier. To me, they're pretty much what drives the entire game forward, rather than actual plot development. Every main character is motivated by a particular flavour of existentialist drives and anxieties. Any particular takeaways from the cast?

Umm I love everyone. Also I’d like to expand on my Wizard of Oz assertion with the rest of the part characters representing more fairy tales, check this out: 

- Freya = Little red riding hood (Big red raincoat, independent traveller, wolf-like features)
- Quina = Hansel and Gretel (bi-gender, eats anything, Bavarian-ish dress, curious)
- Eiko = Snow White (cute young girl, lives in shack with half a dozen tiny dudes, musical)
- Amarant = Rapunzel (Tall like tower, lonely, big hair)

There’s just also shades of other fairy tales in the plot, like Pinocchio, frog prince and Alice in Wonderland vibes. The game has a lot of surprisingly important secondary characters (NPCs) as well, and everything fits and has a place in the world. Basically I guess this game is Shrek.

Complete with the accent!
I can't dispute this, but still... rude! The world and aesthetic is just something I just adore about this game. It starts off with this bird-man tooting a horn, telling everyone to come see a theater performance. It immediately sets the tone perfectly. It's on the very short list of game worlds that I'd want to live in. The only bit that I don't really care for are the minigames. There’s basically only one I dig, and even that one’s kind of a grind. Did you get on with them well, or did they give you a similar "bleh" feeling?

Yeah I didn’t like the minigames. They weren't as plentiful and difficult to figure out as the FF7 ones, but they were like this needlessly slow paced and stingy grind that felt put in place for unreasonable completionists/poor kids who wanted to squeeze every last drop of gameplay. Sometimes that can be nice but sometimes that stuff is too basic and obtuse. I ended up avoiding a lot of the ‘side content’ like the auction house, and trying to get all the zodiac thingies and cards and chocobos and… something about treasure hunter rankings?

Not sure they thought these collectibles through.
Since we already discussed this game already in our Game of the Year talks, I suppose we don’t have to go all that deep. How about we quickly go over over the basics and pick out the things that stood out.

I guess we kinda neglected to talk about a lot of the gameplay and mechanical aspects. I actually expected this game to be a bit more outlandish in terms of its gameplay, have some sort of really controversial mechanics… but actually I think in terms of combat, upgrades, magic systems, and dungeon design it might be the most vanilla, adequate-to-good FF installment to date. And though the world-building is sublime I don’t think there were any particular locations in the game that really stood out to me the way places in Chrono Cross or Zelda games do. But I think at this point, you've figured out what we love about this game.

Quina "Just happy to be here" Quen.
It feeling a little familiar and vanilla is not unexpected. Final Fantasy 9 is pretty much a Greatest Hits tribute band to all the entries before it. It took all the series tropes, including the really old-school ones. It tried to properly explore them using the more modern technology of the time. It's a gimmick that's tricky to pull off, but it hit all the right notes for me. Gameplay systems aside, was there any particular moment worth noting?

There’s this bit in the middle of this game where important stuff is happening and they just kind of leave without Quina. Quina acts all happy-go-lucky and single-minded so s/he is just like OK I SWIM HOME. But later, s/he brings it up again and even later in the game, you actually revisit some memories of her swimming through the ocean as if it’s something that mattered a lot to her. I think that’s my favourite part of the game. I think there’s a lot of ‘show, don’t tell’ qualities that I really appreciate.

Except some occasional necessary exposition.
You're absolutely right about that. Quina's pretty much one of the most one-dimensional characters in the game, but I still related a lot to him/her. The party's got a kind of neglectful attitude towards Quina, and (s)he doesn't let it get to her/him. It's clear though that the game's creators definitely want you to know that Quina exists and has to live with the repercussions of what the rest decides. There's something very pure about a character no one takes into account for, and overcomes it with their independence and positivity. Either way, I'm glad I played it a second time, because it reaffirmed what I loved about it, and I saw a lot of new to appreciate. What about you? Closing thoughts?

Will this be my favourite FF game to date? I don’t really know yet. But it’s definitely up there. It’s just so flippin’ cute.

Ye Olde Metacritic.
Final score?


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