Have You Played… Final Fantasy IX?

This play's a thing

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

I hadn’t, until this week. You may now judge me. Done? OK. When people ask the doomed question “what is the best Final Fantasy”, all the memes will rally to the side of Zidane and his troupe of actor-rogues. And that’s a lot of fun, because in wider gaming circles (ie. those who only dip into JRPGs, as opposed to being fans) it isn’t as well-known as its older brethren, or its newer, flashier siblings. But… maybe… maybe the memes are right?

I’m hoping to find out. I’ve only just escaped the “Evil Forest”, so I assume I still have fifteen discs to get through. But the fairytale world and to-the-point dialogue is exactly what I’d been craving the previous few days. It’s likely I’ll tap out after a few more hours, frustrated by a party wipe or some impossible-to-find piece of blurry scenery. But let’s see. Let’s see. I never did complete Final Fantasy VIII, and that has always haunted me. I don’t want another skeleton in my vidgam closet.

tfw u kill a peasant

Going back makes me think about Final Fantasy as a series. There’s something robust and unstoppable about it, the game that was likely to be Square’s dying breath has given rise to a series that feels immortal. And while it isn’t exactly “fresh” every time, there is enough variety and evolution to keep people coming back. FFIX was the last of its particular polygonal era, so I feel like I owe it to myself to finally catch up.

66 Comments

  1. GameCat says:

    For me it’s hands down the best Final Fantasy ever made.
    I’ve played it many, many times.

    • LexW1 says:

      I feel like, I want to agree with that, but having played it more recently, and played others, I don’t think it is just really “the best”.

      I do think it is somehow “The Most Final Fantasy” Final Fantasy game, in a good way, and importantly, before it came out, it kind of felt like “proper” JRPGs were fucked and would never be seen again (though there were still some good JRPGs coming out, just not such trad ones), especially with FFVIII (ugh), and thus for a lot of FF fans it was a gigantically huge deal, and helped sort of make-up-for-in-advance FFX (which was kind of disappointing, though not graphically).

      I still prefer FFIII/6 myself, but FFIX is probably next. Then maybe, dare I say it, FFXII, which was kind of not even a good game, because it managed to waste ten hours of my life slowly teaching me a system that could be learned in under an hour, but at the same time the Gambit system was so good… I didn’t played FFI-V until later though – I suspect one of them might be next otherwise.

  2. Keios says:

    I bloody love FFIX, for one simple reason- Zidane is an awesome gymnast, sky pirate thief adventurer and he loves it. He doesn’t really care about his mysterious origin, he doesn’t angst over whether or not he should be falling for the Princess, he just gets out there and gets on with it. Compare him to the emo mopeathon leads of VII, VIII and X and he’s by far the most fun and likeable of the lot.

    • Skandranon says:

      Look, I don’t wanna be the guy that repeatedly reminds everyone that VII didn’t have a mopey lead at all, and it was the sequels/spinoffs that portrayed him that way, but uh, yeah.

      I did.

      • Beefenstein says:

        VII had a blank cipher as a lead who simply acted as a vessel for pressing X over and over again to get through interminable random battles.

        • Jekadu says:

          VII used O for confirming menu commands.

          Apparently games were wildly inconsistent about this (Metal Gear Solid used [], sheesh) to the point that it’s part of the certification process for all major platforms now.

          • Isendur says:

            I might be wrong but i think that depends if you played the western or japanese version of many rpgs – they had x and o switched for confirmation so, yeah…

          • Anti-Skub says:

            Which would be the correct button. The original intention for the Playstation controller was for the symbols to reflect the buttons purpose in the game. The triangle was meant to represent a cone of vision and therefore was the “change camera” button. Square was a piece of paper, meant to represent a menu. O and X were meant to be Yes and No respectively.

            Apparently developers never got the memo and they’ve been used assigned incorrectly ever since.

        • MikoSquiz says:

          VII really was a right old load of shite, wasn’t it? Does this one have the horrible antiquated ZX Spectrum “everyone stands in formation taking sort-of-turns to hit each other or drink healing potions” combat system? If it doesn’t, I might give it a bash.

          • Kitsunin says:

            Uhhh, you’re being sarcastic, right? Every Final Fantasy game before XII have that type of combat system, and even the games XII and onward are still like that at their core despite some prettification.

        • JarinArenos says:

          Did we even play the same game? I went back and played FFVII recently, and Cloud is a surprisingly well-rounded character who overcompensates for insecurity with brashness and snark (not a good coping skill, thus a mental breakdown later in game). As the viewpoint character he doesn’t have as many lines (especially not in sidequests), but there’s a decently defined personality there in the actual plot sequences.

          • dethtoll says:

            Yeah let’s be real, the game is about a dude whose head is too far up his own ass to even realize that the girl he’s trying so fucking hard to impress ALREADY wants to jump his bones. Also there’s some stuff about Lovecraftian monsters and diseased science and the end of the world.

      • LexW1 says:

        He might not have actively been portrayed as mopey, but he was pretty much a non-entity, and the context of the more vivid and active characters around him certainly made him feel pretty mopey.

        I mean, where do you think the sequels/spin-offs got it from? Why do you think so many people read him as mopey? Because whilst he might not have seemed that way in a game with other mopey characters, he sure seemed like it surrounded by people like Barrett, Tifa, Aeris, Yuffie and so on. Even the actual tragic vampire seemed to be more lively.

        • Skandranon says:

          The sequels “got it” from the fact that modern Square-Enix really likes creating tragic mopey character. Or constantly angry.

          And people’s memory of him during the game have been replaced by the versions of him since, which spent the entirety of KH whining about the darkness inside him and AC being really sad constantly.

          I’m not arguing whether or not he was a good character, but he was pretty radically different from Squall, of all people.

          • Kaeoschassis says:

            In their defence, Crisis Core’s depiction of Cloud is fantastic. So there’s that, at least.

      • Keios says:

        A good point. But I stand by Zidane being a welcome relief from the Dawson’s Creek as crappy mercenaries tedium of VIII and the constant whining about his daddy issues and having the worst shorts in the history of fashion of X.

    • Anti-Skub says:

      What you mean is that Zidane, and most of the rest of the cast are relentlessly cheery Disney characters, who’s endlessly upbeat reactions to war and the coming apocalypse would, in reality, seem psychotic.

      7 and 9 are two of my favourite (if not my two favourite) games, but it drives me nuts when people write off 7 and try and use that “Clouds so emo” line to justify their dislike. First of all, did you follow his backstory? At all? His home town is burnt down when he was a kid, his friends and family killed, he finds out he’s the result of genetic experiments, his love interest is murdered, he loses his mind…it’s not exactly a sunny picnic. Give Zidane that history and his disposition would seem downright bizarre.

      And yes, on the whole, Cloud is a more downbeat character, but have you completely forgotten the 75% of the game where he’s not even slightly mopey? For about the first third of the game Cloud is a cocky twat who thinks he’s too good for Avalanche and is constantly trying to show off. When he’s moody it’s not because he’s “emo” it’s because he’s being asked to do things that he thinks makes him look less cool than he thinks he is. Barrett and Tifa call him out on it constantly, he cracks jokes (despite not being funny). If his character has a flaw in the first act of the game, it’s arrogance, not self pity.

      There are loads of upbeat moments with him. When he dresses as a woman and then threatens to chop that guys dick off, or the whole bit with the parade. Yes he feels sorry for himself at the end of the second act…do you think he shouldn’t? Some pretty fucked up stuff happens to him. But by act 3 Tifa has talked him round and he leads the charge to victory and becomes a better person. It’s an interesting character arc. One that makes Zidanes Jack Sparrow style swash buckling seem decidedly one note.

      But even if you just can’t stand Cloud…how can you possibly condemn 7 for a single character, and not 9. Or do you not remember the pound shop knock off Sephiroth that is Kuja? What about that boring bastard with the big red hands that I can’t even remember the name of, or Quina, or the Queen, basically a placeholder big bad for half the game until the plot meanders it’s way towards revealing Kuja and Garland. Two of the least threatening villains the series has ever produce. Every time they’d tell you about some new terrible thing Kuja had done, I wasn’t shocked, I was thinking “What? That guy?”. Something the developers obviously relised when they decided to just abandon them entirely at the end of the game and replace them with a final boss that had bugger all to do with anything. Like they suddenly realised “Wait, all of these bad guys are terrible…quick throw in a weird floating blue guy”. I mean come on…compare this roster of villains against Sephiroth, Jenova, The Turks, Shinra…it’s laughable.

      FF9 is full of wonky, poorly written characters that don’t fit in the games world, as all of the Final Fantasy games are, but they also have some absolutely great ones. The lead character in 9 for me was never Zidane. It was Vivi, and Eiko, Freya and Garnet, and the whole Steiner/Beatrice thing, that’s what I loved. In the same way, for me 7 was all about Tifa, Aeris, Red XIII, Yuffie and Vincent. Who cares if you don’t like Cloud? There was so much else about the game to love.

      • dolgion1 says:

        THIS! THIS! THIS!!

        All those people who criticize FF7 because they think Cloud is being emo really don’t know what they’re talking about. I played FF7 to completion just recently and it’s pretty fresh in the memory. Cloud isn’t emo for the most part of the game. Yeah he’s a guy on the quiet side, but that’s not being emo, it’s just that he’s not a generic upbeat, obnoxious anime protagonist.

        Cloud’s backstory is messed up, he gives Keanu Reeves a run for his money. And then he loses his love interested to the big bad. Sure he spends a good portion of the game in a crisis of identity and almost completely falls into a vegetative state after disappearing into the lifestream. But that’s not being “emo”.

        I think most people haven’t even played the game, look at the character design of Cloud being a slim guy with spiky hair and a big sword and equate that to the stupid emo fashion style that came a good while later than FF7 and retroactively project their feelings about emo-styled people onto Cloud, a character who’s nothing like those emo’s in real life.

        I like Cloud and Zidane, but I think Cloud’s a much more interesting character, and FF7 works well because of Cloud. FF9 is a different story with a different tone and Zidane’s good for that game. If you don’t like your Final Fantasy’s with a dark tone, then yeah I wouldn’t recommend FF7 over FF9.

  3. st33dd says:

    The iPad version is the best!

    *is dragged away by PC-Master-Race*

    It’s the beeesst, they’ve redone the interface and everythiiing! Freya FTW!!!

    • OldPalsTogether says:

      Is this true? Must admit didn’t know it was even on the iPad. Loved this game back in the day, especially as it really made up for the what I considered a relatively MOR VIII. Shame it seems that VIII and it’s tall, stylishly groomed fashion models seem to have dictated the new FF trends. Not that I’ve played one since IX.

    • RedViv says:

      Hey I got good news about the PC interface! Outside of the on-screen buttons to replace the gamepad, it has the same one!

  4. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    Top three (mainline) FF games:

    IX
    XII
    X-2

    And with the Zodiac Age, XII is seriously gunning for that top spot.

    • JarinArenos says:

      Agreed… XII already got more replays from me than FFIX, and ZA removed most of my remaining frustrations with its game system (goodbye forbidden treasure chests, you won’t be missed). for IX, I’m still waiting on that fan-remastering of the CG backgrounds to be completed so I can actually play the recent PC release.

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        I just googled that mod because that sounds amazing, and it looks like it’s already done? Or is there a specific mod still in the works?

        • JarinArenos says:

          I might be a bit behind. I saw the first release, but it still had bugs, broken layering, etc. Might be finished by now.

  5. Mandrake42 says:

    Probably my favourite Final Fantasy. It’s nice to have an FF game with such an upbeat protagonist rather than the typical brooding loner grouch you see in a lot of them

    • Scumbag says:

      I always find that rather fitting as, once you peel back the surface layers, FF IX has probably the darkest core themes of the whole series.

  6. MisterFurious says:

    I played it when it came out way back when. At the time, I had only played VII and VIII so most of the nostalgic elements of the game were lost on me. I also didn’t like the cartoony graphics back then. I’ve thought about replaying the game because I think I would like both of those elements far more now than I did back then. I’ve played many of the older games and I appreciate the art style more. I just don’t really have the time right now, though. Maybe some day.

    That said, VII is the best and VIII sucks.

    • JarinArenos says:

      I can understand complaints about the art style – especially at the time, coming off of the more and more realistic FF games. But there’s an amazing game in there, entirely separate from nostalgia. It just took what was good in earlier games and ran with it.

  7. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    I always get hung up on FF games with the pointless side stuff. The story and core gameplay draw me in, but the OCD completionist in me goes crazy if, for example, 100 of 100 nobles aren’t impressed by my QTE swordfighting. What makes it even worse is that sometimes the rewards for these irritating little minigames are important or powerful items, and sometimes it’s just a handful of potions. The only way to not drive myself insane is to spoil myself with a walkthrough.

    • Mandrake42 says:

      Yeah this happens to me too. In fact I’m replaying this game right now as I bought it in the Steam summer sale. I’m finding myself doing all the chocobo stuff like finding all the hidden chocobo treasures, including those bubbles in the ocean and the cracks in the mountains. Man, that stuff takes ages.

      • JarinArenos says:

        And unfortunately, while it’s annoying, the chocobo treasure hunting DOES give worthwhile rewards (including the best robe in the game and Zidane’s best weapon), so it’s hard to justify skipping it if you have any completionist blood in your veins.

        • Mandrake42 says:

          I completely missed a lot of this stuff when I played through it on PS1 many years ago. I found the hot and cold minigame too hit and miss to bother with it so I missed out on all the loot. With the PC version and turbo mode, it made the whole thing way more tolerable. In fact with turbo mode on, hot and cold is a cakewalk, especially in the lagoon you reach via the ocean.

    • CaptainHairy says:

      I love that, in this one in particular, if you mess around trying to get 100% of everything, you will miss getting something (the Excalibur II sword, only available to people who reach a specific screen in the final dungeon in less than 12 hours from starting the game).

      • thekelvingreen says:

        Not only that, but it’s apparently impossible to do so on a PAL PlayStation version of the game, because the difference between 50hz and 60hz makes all the, er, difference.

    • noodlecake says:

      The parappa the rapper style play mini game can be frustrating but it’s much much more doable than the skipping mini game. I have put a lot of hours into trying to get to 1000 and I think the best I’ve managed is maybe 230 or so? So absurdly hard.

  8. Hilloh says:

    It is probably my favorite game of all time. Nostalgia is one aspect of it nowadays, I’m sure, but on its own it captured something unique from the series that has not been there ever since. Being the last one to come to Playstation, it had perfected what’s possible on that platform. The setting returned to the medieval fantasy of the earlier games which was not present on the earlier titles on Playstation and in this way has not been there ever since. And perhaps why I like it so much, boils down to the atmosphere; most of the time it’s light but when it needs to, it can also be very touching.

    I love this game so much.

  9. DingDongDaddio says:

    I’ve played it, but Zidane is both the worst name for a protagonist as well as looking like a complete idiot as the worst design for a protagonist. So I never got more than an hour or two in. I wish the knight with the glam-rock eyeliner was the main character.

    • lokimotive says:

      Final Fantasy V’s protagonist, by default, is name Butz, though in the official translation he’s named Bartz.

    • RobinOttens says:

      For long stretches of the game that knight is the main character though. This game has more of an ensemble cast, like FFVI had. Sure, Zidane is the hero and half of the game’s central romance plotline. But all the characters end up central to the plot and all of them take center stage for big parts of the game.

      I’m not a fan of Zidane’s name either though. I can’t remember if the game lets you rename him.

  10. TheManfromAntarctica says:

    FFIX best FF.
    I wish they did more fairytale FFs like this one instead of going for the “realistic” and “serious” stories populated by prepubescent emo J-Pop boybands of the latter ones. The cast of characters is great (Vivi and Steiner and the Waltzes!), the only disappointment for me was probably the very protagonist Zidane – he just wasn’t very interesting, his only virtue being on the upbeat side of FFs characters (like Tidus and Vaan, also very forgettable).
    FFIX is a beautiful game up until the end, when *SPOILER* it is revealed Zidane is an alien from another planet. Who cares anyway? That’s where the writers dropped the ball and called it a day summoning the inevitable flamboyant metrosexual gigolo for the final battle.
    I wish they made a proper full-HD remake like they are doing for #7 addressing all these little issues and make a really fantastic game.

    • Scumbag says:

      METROSEXUAL GIGALO AS THE FINAL BATTLE? SOUNDS A BIT BORING.
      BY THE WAY, I AM THE GOD OF DEATH! HOW ARE YOU ALL? LETS FIGHT!

    • Premium User Badge

      basilisk says:

      Yeah, I really liked it, but then the sci-fi stuff started and it suddenly all went very stupid.

      What comes before is very charming, though. VIII is still my personal favourite, but IX is quite nice.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      To be fair, the latest one has the most emo J-Pop boyband looking cast of the entire series so far, but the characters are written quite well and they sort of transcend their appearance.

      Well, except for Gladio’s weird aggression about 75% of the way through. That’s a bit of odd character writing.

  11. wcq says:

    I’ve tried to finish it twice, got pretty far (once to the second disc, once to the final disc) and lost my save both times. After that, I deduced that the universe was conspiring to make me give up on it, so I did.

    • DarkFenix says:

      It was FF8 where the universe conspired against me. I was literally on the last boss (something I only found out later of course), had to go out, came back, save file corrupted. Only years later could I bear to go back to the game and finish it.

  12. Spuzzell says:

    It is the best Final Fantasy by miles and miles and miles.

    It has the series best protaganist in a cat-man-gymnast-skypirate, the most lovably heartwrenching companion who also wears the best hat (no spoilers) the SECOND most heartwrenching companion and best honourable rat, BY FAR the best and most interesting female lead and the best cutscenes.

    And the best setting.

    And it’s the best!

    AND I still have never finished it due to disc death once and emulation fail once, so I still have that to look forward to.

    It’s the best. You’ll love it.

  13. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    link to youtu.be

  14. BlackeyeVuk says:

    Oh I judged you so nicely, but then I felt sad and insignificant when you said “OK”. How dare you play with my emotions. I shall forgive, after all you played best FF. Never too late for good stuff. Yes?

  15. Premium User Badge

    ComicSansMS says:

    link to youtube.com

    FF IX is the best. If you only have time to play two, I’d still recommend you go with VI and VII, as they are vastly more important historically and they contrast very nicely off each other. If you only have time to play one, I’m sorry, JRPGs just aren’t for you.

    But yeah, IX is the best game in the series imho.

  16. Urthman says:

    I don’t care about arguing whether it’s the best, but the soundtrack to FF9 is amazing. So many wonderful pieces of music in all kinds of different styles. (Like 4 CDs worth that I suspect still isn’t quite complete). I played the game once a long time ago, but I still listen to the music frequently.

  17. thekelvingreen says:

    I haven’t played it, because after FFVIII I got put off the series a bit and didn’t go back until a few years later and got X as a Greatest Hits re-release. I didn’t finish that for Reasons, ignored XI but got back in with XII, which I adore.

    I then found out that everyone thinks IX is The Best One so when I got a PS3 I bought it and it’s been sitting there waiting for me to start it up. I have a week off next week, so maybe it is time.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      If FFVIII put you off the series, funnily enough, FFIX would have been the perfect remedy. Ah well, I envy you for getting to play it for the first time.

    • Stardog says:

      People think IX is the best? No chance.

      It generally goes VII by a mile, then either X or IX. It swings towerds the newer games as only younger people start participating in the polls and 30+’s hang out elsewhere.

  18. Isendur says:

    The best FF for me is Chrono Trigger and Breath of Fire 4.
    Just kidding love 6 and 8. 9 was okay for me. I preferred FF Tactics over 9 to be honest.

  19. poliovaccine says:

    Could someone try and sum up the appeal of this series to a total series alien like me? With all the depth and clearly-beloved characters, it’s intriguing, but mostly it’s just that the series is such a phenomenon amongst so many gamers which makes me curious.

    So yeah, for Final Fantasy fans, if you had to explain for a time capsule what’s the appeal of this series, how would you put it?

  20. Frank says:

    Had no idea it was ever available on PC. Never had an interest on account of the (deliberately awful? like as a joke or something?) character art.

  21. racccoon says:

    So enjoyed my time on this one :)

  22. widardd says:

    I wanted to like it but the constant disappearing/appearing of party members collided with my habbit of min-maxing. :/

  23. maxcolby says:

    Geez, is anyone here not born before the 90s?
    FFIII is by far my favourite with FFVII second and FFII third.
    I think I started FFIII or FFIX but the disc froze on a cut scene 3 hours in and I could never get past it. Said eff that shit.
    Many grade school weekends were spent on FFIII and many high school ones on FFVII.

  24. Doug Exeter says:

    Couldn’t even beat it on mobile with numerous cheats at my finger tips. Just couldn’t force myself to care. XII rules over all.

  25. SadOldGuy says:

    This article had to come out the day I had to delete FFIX in order to have space for Cold Steel.

  26. corinoco says:

    Any FF game that has FMVs that can be made into a Sarah Brightman videoclip is ok by me. Googel ‘Deliver Me’ FF9 Sarah Brightman.

  27. hfm says:

    I’m also in the camp of FFIX is the best FF. Vivi!!!

    I really love FFVII because it was the first FF I ever played. Even though I’m a 70’s child when it comes to gaming, had a 2600 as a kid. I never had another console until the PS2 due to becoming a “PC gamer” with the TRS-80 Model I/III and then C64 which cemented it. I played FFVII on PC and loved it. I still have extremely fond memories of it as my first JRPG, and an excellent place to start IMO. But FFIX is still my favorite of all of them that I’ve played (FF6-12 minus 11). I should play it again as it’s been probably 15-16 years since I played it using backwards compat on the PS2.