Final Fantasy IX – Squaresoft – PS1 – 2001
The final few games of my list, but is this really the ‘Final’ Fantasy? The final game for the original Playstation and last to have series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi on as producer, it would go on to become the final of the ‘classic’ FF’s, and the last true fantasy adventure in the series. That’s a lot of finals to deal with, and as a way to close a chapter in gaming history you can’t do much better than Final Fantasy IX.
IX wasn’t always one of my favourite FF’s, in fact it once resided beneath all of the PS2 entries and the previous game FFVIII, which as you have seen narrowly missed out on a spot in my top 25. That said, it was the first I owned asking it for my birthday after playing through most of VIII. I remember that birthday really well in fact, I had a few friends round and was busy playing party games with most of my guests while my mate Alastair played through the opening of IX with my brother. Did I know that Final Fantasy would go onto become the most important link between me and Ali, or that in just a few years he would become absorbed in the MMO FFXI? Of course not, but I could tell instantly that these were the games for me, an RPG series that knows when it doesn’t need to change the basic infrastructure of the genre it works within.
Compared to the Sci-Fi aesthetic, and complicated gameplay of the previous two games, FFIX is a ‘classical’ experience. Zidane is one of my favourite leads, his journey into the heart of a princess running away from her heritage being easy to love. The cast of characters is dynamic, quirky and lovable all 8 playable mains bringing something unique to the narrative. Vivi is the obvious favourite, a young black mage coming to terms with being alone in the world, and whether the expiration date on life makes it worth giving up on living. His story is genuinely touching, but through a careful choice of dialogue and character quirks, his troubles are never forced upon you. So many times in games the ’emotional’ character developments are so overwrought that they lose all emotion. Here the idea of a young boy discovering what it means to ‘live’ is pulled off in a subtle way, allowing for him to become a fully relatable and emotive member of the cast.I was as young as Vivi at the time, and while at the time I wasn’t seeing this similarity, on reflection his development over the course of the game did a lot for the teenager I would soon become.
The idea of self discovery is key to the journey of Final Fantasy IX, with even the more obtuse characters like Amarant, Eiko and Quina finding their footing amongst the madness. Steiner is another bold addition to the cast, the sound of his armour clattering whenever he walks being an artistic touch that defines just about everything about his journey in one sound effect. There isn’t a weak link in the characters here, Dagger and Freya are honest depictions of women, while Kuja is one of the most overly dramatic bad guys the series has ever seen. It’s hard to fault the narrative and character development in Final Fantasy IX, much like it is hard to fault anything else.
Despite the heavy praise I’ve given Final Fantasy IX so far, I would put the game this high for one reason and one reason alone. There has always been minigames and sidequests in the FF series, the card game in FFVIII; Blitzball in FFX; the Weapon battles in FFVII. All of these pale in comparison though to one side quest found in FFIX, one which involves two of my favourite denizens of the Final Fantasy universe, Moogles and Chocobos. The Chocobo Forest is a easy to locate area on the world map, and you can access it pretty early on during the game. Take a trip inside to meet a Moogle named Mene and a Chocobo named Choco and you can partake in a minute long game of Chocobo Hot N Cold, where you dig for treasures with an indication of how close you are to each. 30 hours of digging later you’ll be in the Chocobo Paradise after unearthing hundreds of pieces of treasure, and travelling the entire world map. It’s basically a game unto itself to be fair, with more content than the average retail release these days.
But it’s not just that this side quest is impressive on a technical level, it’s one of the fondest memories I have of gaming as a kid. I remember going over to Alastair’s house for him to show me where the next Chocograph was, or what powerup was next. My mind was blown when by accident I discovered that you could upgrade choco’s powers to cross water and it soon became a race to see who could complete the side quest first. Of course I was well behind Ali the whole time but it captured the feeling of exploration like no other game has ever done. Chocobo Hot N Cold is my favourite side quest in any FF game, which is high praise from me.
It may only have reached number 3 on my list, but Final Fantasy IX is probably the one videogame I can describe as perfect. It sounds over the top, but everything here is polished to such a high standard that I can’t fault Sakaguchi’s ‘Final’ Fantasy. I’ve seen IX described as a storybook brought to life, and if so it’s one storybook that every gamer deserves in their life.
How Can I Play It? – You can download Final Fantasy IX on the Playstation Store for less than 8 quid, where you can play it on both PS3 or PSP. The original 4 disc version isn’t hard to find either, but you’ll have to pay a fair bit more.