I see other bloggers actually writing the name of the game they are talking about/reviewing in the title, in an effort to lure people in to reading their article, with full knowledge of what they are getting into. Not me, I like to make sure that you have no idea going in, so it’s either a wonderful surprise, or you have totally lost interest before you even get to the end of this sentence.
Final Fantasy IX. There. I said it. The 2000 PS1 classic is now available in a slightly better version than was originally released. It still has the 4:3 borders (unless I just haven’t figured out how to get it nice and big), it still doesn’t have voice over work and the cut scenes are clearly a product of it’s time. All that being said, this is and always will be my favourite Final Fantasy game, having played it multiple times, yet never having finished it. That speaks more to my lack of attention span than the quality of the story though.
The reason I love this one over the behemoth that was Final Fantasy VII is the setting. To me, a JRPG is set in medieval times, with a knight, a thief, a black mage and so on. This has exactly that, from the very beginning. Games like Final Fantasy X (a very close 2nd favourite) has a black and white mage, however they aren’t quite as on the nose as IX. Some may see that as a drawback, but I see it as FFIX really showing it’s hand upfront – this is a traditional, turn based, back to origins JRPG. I love it for that. The story is gripping with no irritating, moody protagonists (Lightning I’m looking at you). It has light-hearted moments that FFVIII lacked, but serious, heart wrenching moments very early on to keep you invested.
The pre-rendered backgrounds don’t look as impressive as they once did and I would take a guess that they are the hardest thing to update when doing a “re-make*”. The character models have had a little polish and the text has been jazzed up to make it actually legible. If you are looking for a PS1 game that has been completely redone from the ground up a la Crash Bandicoot – this isn’t it. I haven’t played the iOS or PC port, but I am assuming this is it, on the PS4. The sound design still remains great, that opening theme brings back so many memories and the kupo save sound is a tiny, yet wonderful noise. So much so that when I publish this I am going to seek it out as my text tone.
In terms of gameplay, this game has been out for 17 years now. It is a turn based JRPG, casting magic, skills and normal attacks on enemies that randomly show up. If you haven’t played a JRPG then I don’t know what to tell you at this point, however this is possibly an easier jumping on point due to a relatively simplified levelling system. No more GF junctioning to really mess with your head or sphere grids to really make you question your decisions 20 hours too late. Levelling up is done via old fashion exp gaining, abilities are linked to your equipment. Each battle gains you ‘AP’. Once you have enough, you ‘learn’ the skill and can use it without that piece of armour equipped. Fairly straightforward, but it does lead to some key decisions. Do you equip the higher level sword to do more damage early on, or stick with it until you have learned the skill the lower level one does, but sacrifice that attack power?
This version does have a couple of additions to it to help out newer players. There are cheats built in that you can switch on and off as you see fit. You can now speed up time to make conversations and battles fly by. You can switch on ‘safe travel’ mode which disables random encounters, however by doing this you miss out on valuable experience. Finally, switching on auto level boosts all characters to level 99 and auto learn, gives all abilities and a couple of other game breaking things. If you choose to do this and save, you will disable trophies and essentially ruin the game for yourself. If you just want to experience the story then go for it, but it kind of ruins the experience if you aren’t played as intended. A final nice little touch is an auto-save I wasn’t aware of. I died during a boss battle, any Final Fantasy veteran knows that falling in battle means ‘game over’ and back to the title screen. If you haven’t saved in a while that means you lose hours of progress. Controller smacking over, I loaded my game and was pleasantly surprised to find myself loaded back to the beginning of the fight! Little touches like that really make me appreciate how unforgiving games were 17 years ago!
Finally (see what I did there) currently on the PSN store you get a nice little bonus of a hand drawn theme. Usually I am not one for ‘bundles’ but this one has the opening theme playing on your home screen and hand drawn pictures of the characters. A lovely touch. I am massively biased as I loved this game already, but if for £15 I would recommend it to the nines (another one there). It would be better if there was a cross save function with the PS1 classic version on Vita and PS3, but I cannot wait to start it all over again. Long Live Alexandria.
*I call it a remake, however very little has been done to it. More of a re-release.