The peak of video games.
No, really, I really think so. If it's the year 2000 and you're making a game for the PS1, this is the best game that could've been made. Everything is so polished and looks great and plays great even 20 years later.
What's also interesting is that in my house I've had 2 people, a friend and my brother, play this game up to disc 4 and then stop for some reason (my brothers save file is still on one of my memory cards and I don't really know why he stopped there), yet, I knew knothing about this game. I somehow managed to keep myself from spoilers over all these years.
Basically all I knew going into it was: there's a guy with a tail, there's the knight in the armor, there's the black mage with the long hat, you begin on a pirate ship, and they flipped the X/O buttons (which I ofcourse flipped back because this is a JRPG and I'm not a psychopath).
I don't really know where to begin my writing about this. It's such an epic game. I kinda just remember the last couple 10 hours I played, but then I think back about the 3 other discs and I'm like: holy shit, that was this game too.
That makes it sound like the story is kind of unmemorable, and yeah, I wouldn't say it's super interesting. It's fine. Some parts of it were very great, like the frog turning back to a king, princess's depression, Vivi's discoveries, Beatrix, but for the most part it was just fine.
But I don't mind that, I could play the game without worrying what would happen next. I liked that. It made the game very comfortable to play.
The ending was very nice though, I'll give it that. Almost got a tear out of my eye. It was very close.
One fundamental issue I had with the story was that I don't really like the main character Zidane. I don't actively hate him either, but he's just so out of place... I hate his tail, he talks like a brat, he looks like a damn turd in the FMV's, he's not very good in battle in the later parts, and somehow he is super integral to the whole existence of everything? I don't get it.
I love Dagger, or Garnet, whatever she goes by. She's cute, she sings beautifully, she's had a pretty awful life and Zidane swoops in to take her on a wild ride. Even when she was in a slump and was even more useless in battle I kept on using her.
Then there's Vivi. Oh my god. I love Vivi. He's so cute. I actually didn't know he had a gender but he is a boy apparently! He does a lot of boy stuff! I love how he always readjusts his hat when talking like he's nervous. If they make a remake of this game ala FF7R I'd be very interested in seeing how they handle him.
Then there's Steiner, the knight. I don't really mind him, but I don't really like him either. He's just very whiny in the beginning, he makes an annoying sound when he walks... I don't know. I just don't care for him. He's an unintentional goofball.
Then we have Quina! S/he had some very overpowered spells s/he could learn, like LVL 5 Death (great for taking down Grand Dragons, something I did a lot), Mighty Guard and 1000 Needles. Outside of battle s/he had some funny lines that made chuckle, and sometimes just groan.
Next up is Freya. Didn't care about her at all for the first 40 hours of the game or so, then I learned her abilities and found Dragons Crest which was very useful and ended up loving her.
Perhaps the most boring character out of all was Amarant. I just wanted him to go away. I tried using him in battle for a while, and he was pretty good, but he was always in a bad mood and just uncomfortable to use so, no, I don't like him. There's even a spot in the game where you can let him go away for a while and I didn't hesitate when I let him go.
Finally, there's Eiko. From the beginning I just saw her as the Xerox lady from Friends who comes in the middle of Ross and Rachel so I just didn't like her at all. Which made me feel bad because her title screen quote is really sad.
If you want, we can count in Beatrix, which I love just for her song, Rose of May (more on that later...). Kinda wish she had a bigger role in the game.
Overall, the characters are a bit of a mixed bag for me but the ones I loved I loved so much I could easily get along with the others. The game is also nice in the way that you can swap your party at almost any time. It never felt like I left the others behind.
(If you want to know more about the story, I recommend this video: Final Fantasy IX - A Poorly Drawn Summary)
What I like most about this game is that it's incredibly fun and runs amazingly well for being a PS1 game.
From a technical perspective it feels incredibly polished, especially compared to FF7 which now feels like a beta build barely holding together.
And there are so many good quality of life improvements they did that makes the game very playable today: the menus are faster, there is a in-game help system, the screen transitions are much faster or instant, you can travel automatically on the overworld, and much much more I can't remember until I go back and play an older FF game.
It's truly marvelous how much better FF9 is improved on a technical level, it doesn't feel like a PS1 game, it feels like a PS2 game, which is funny because I'm sure some people had just bought a PS2 and this was the first game they played on it.
I'm sure FF8 had some improvements too, but I can't speak about that game yet (or maybe ever... it seems terrible from the 1 hour I tried to play it, but I'm open to giving it another shot.)
Especially the help system is really nice and I used it a lot. They even advertise it in the manual: you don't need the manual!
Playing FF9 is really easy even if you don't know anything, and my proof for that is that I didn't use a walkthrough for it.
Usually when I play RPGs, especially old ones, I always follow a walkthrough because I am afraid of getting screwed. But with this one I was like "eh, I'll try without one for a while, if I start to struggle I'll start following one". I ended up not following any walkthrough!
There was some minor things I wanted to look up, like how the auction house worked, which answers were ideal for some questions, but other than that I just played it offline.
Contrast to FF7 where I feel like you need to read someones walkthrough online every step of the way, there are so many traps and things you can do but shouldn't do.
This would suggest that FF9 is a pretty easy game, and yeah, it probably is. I think I got two legit Game Over's. One at the very beginning, maybe it was the first boss, and then one in disc 3 which was actually a very legit one because I lost a lot of progress. That was a fun section though so I didn't mind re-doing it the next day.
Speaking of abilities, we need to talk about them... they're addicting.
For the first two discs or so, I didn't grind for any abilities. I just used the "Equip Optimized" command in the menus and I thought it was really nice. I just bought a bunch of gears, hit the Optimize button for each character and went on with my day. But then I started realizing that one of my characters didn't know how to do a damn thing. And that was when I realized, oh! I should probably learn the abilities from the equipment before I swap them out. And thus my addiction started.
At the end of the game I had about 47 hours on my save file, and I reckon 15 of them were grinding for abilities. I probably didn't have to do that, but it was fun and super addicting to go through all the characters and all the equipment and see what could be learned.
In retrospect, the only abilities I really cared for were: Auto-regen, Auto-life, Vivi's Flare, Freya's Dragon Crest and some of the status prevention things (Locomotion, Body Temp). Of course you also want Level Up and Ability Up if you're grinding.
Thanks to all that grinding I was super over-leveled for the final area. It was a breeze getting through everything. The very final boss got me kind of nervous, but it worked out fine (note to self: equip everyone with Auto-Life).
Another reason why I grinded so much, was because... I didn't want the game to end... because I know that I tend to never play a single-player game again once I see the credits because I gotta get to the next one because I have so many in my backlog.
But with FF9, I didn't want it to end. It was so fun and good and I always looked forward to playing it. It never felt I had to push through, like the snow mountains in FF7 which I just dread thinking about.
I also really liked the art style. Playing the game on a 4K TV through an OSSC, it looks pixelated but it's tolerable. Some of the FMV's look poor and some of the fog effects won't work though. So if you can I recommend playing the game on a CRT. It looks incredible then. Through Composite cables it almost looks like a oil painting, it's really soft and nice. If you play it through RGB cables on a CRT it looks like a really good painting.
Everything about FF9 is just perfect, I wouldn't have minded if it was 10 hours longer. Right now I feel like I just wanna play it more, so I'm probably gonna start another file or go back and grind some more on my current file.
We gotta talk music. This game has some of my favorite tracks. Especially one of them hit me really hard: Rose of May.
You see, back in the early 2010s I played a lot of osu! (and still do sometimes), and Rose of May (beatmap) was one of the songs I played alot back then. But I didn't realize it was from this game. I just thought it was some generic piano piece Nobuo Uematsu made.
So when I'm playing this game, some pretty wild stuff is happening, and I all of a sudden hear this song I had to stop progressing text boxes and just listen to it and get taken back. The nostalgia of having played it so much in osu! and then hearing it in this beautiful game... man.
This piano piece is one of the finest pieces of music ever made. I love it. Now that I know it's from a video game it could easily be my favorite VGM ever.
Here's some other tracks and some thoughts:
I didn't record my whole playthrough, "only" the last 20 hours of it, so I have some screenshots atleast. I wish I had some from the earlier areas though so I could reminisce over those.
Here are some of my favorite rooms/scenes/areas:
Basically all of Lindblum. Lindblum is seriously one of my favorite video game cities now, its layout is so cool:
Final Fantasy IX is definitively the best FF I have played so far. Yes, I think it is better than VII, without a doubt. VII is nostalgic for me and it has a more interesting story, but everything else about that game kind of sucks compared to IX.
Yeah, the main character could've been more to my taste... The villain isn't as interesting as Sephiroth... The card minigame is pretty irrelevant... But they are so minor in the grand scheme of things. The little moments, the areas, the music, the battles, the ability addiction, the summons, the beautiful artistic design, the QoL improvements they made, the polish, the technical improvements. I really can't believe it's a PS1 game, it feels so modern.
Is it my new favorite game of all time? It could be. It's definitively up there somewhere. I enjoyed every minute I played of it and wanted it to go on.
The peak of video games.