For me, Final Fantasy IX brings together a perfect blend of everything I have loved about the Final Fantasy games. Where other games in the series have brought me to tears, and genuinely inspired me, no other Final Fantasy has made me feel quite so immersed in a world that I’ve actually wanted to live in. Here are my feelings and reflections on what I think is my number one Final Fantasy game.
The opening segments of this game work so perfectly for me. I love the introduction of this game. Beginning in Alexandria as a young and naïve child, Vivi, acts as the perfect platform for the player, also beginning their journey along with the character. The cheerful and upbeat piece of music that plays in this section of the game gives such a relaxed feel that makes the game enjoyable right from the beginning.
The opening section of the game is very heavily focused on character development. The story evolves as the intentions of Princess Garnet become clear. At this stage, the only understanding afforded to the player is that these characters have individual objectives which have become intertwined. There appears to be very little at stake other than their personal motives. Zidane has orders to kidnap the Princess, while the very same Princess wishes to escape Alexandria to visit her Uncle. Vivi simply needs a ride to escape from the castle guards while Steiner is sworn to protect his unruly Princess at any cost.
This emphasis on the characters’ individual motivations helps us to form relationships with them, and that connection is a key factor in this game. So much emphasis is placed on character growth. The story relies on us being empathetic with the choices the characters make. This is where I feel Final Fantasy IX really excels. There was never a stage where I felt the characters were acting foolishly or unrealistically. Their reactions to in-game events are consistent and believable, and often very similar to my reaction as I played.
Upon leaving Alexandria, we are introduced to the wider world of Gaia. It is a diverse and strangely beautiful landscape filled with charming architecture and natural wonder. The world feels cohesive, nothing seems out of place and everything fits into the medieval theme.
The plot develops a really satisfying escalation into what becomes a ‘save the world from destruction’ mission. As we enter the games’ second act, the story accelerates through several key plot points which are given added depth thanks to the strength of the characterisation. At this stage, the characters are led by the events taking place around them, and we are taken on a suitably epic adventure around a vibrant and detailed world.
Being introduced to the colourful and interesting species that inhabit the world, with unique dialects and speech patterns, it is such an effective method of building depth into the setting. It is the overall feel of this game that for me puts it right up there with the best of the series. Unique locations like Conde Petie and Cleyra place us in a world that is full of communities that you can believe are living their lives even after you leave.
At this stage, the pacing of the story progression was sublime. Playing the game never feels like effort. The games’ events brilliantly lead us through the cutscene heavy middle third.
All the ground work in the early game helps to make the events in the latter sections that much more effective and emotional. Because we have come to know this setting and these characters within the world, the fact that it has all been suddenly placed in pretty catastrophic jeopardy hits us just as hard as it should do, and we feel the pain along with them.
As the details of the story become clearer, and the truth surrounding Zidane and his relationship with Kuja begins to surface, Final Fantasy IX transforms into a game that is totally unrecognizable from the light-hearted beginnings that now seem so distant. As those final nuances fit into place, the story develops into a web of each characters’ own emotions and decisions. Even by this point, the growth of these characters remains believable and incredibly satisfying. This party that we have carried all this way remains the same mix and match group they have always been, except now they possess the strength and courage to fight for their very existence.
For me, Final Fantasy IX has an extremely strong ending. One that is filled with varying emotions. Although I’m still not sure anyone quite knows where that final boss came from, it does not take away from the fact that this story takes us on a truly enthralling journey, during which we are able to learn so much and experience the joy and sorrow of a thoroughly epic adventure.
It is a true example of exactly how I think the perfect story is written and presented. Video games offer a unique style of story telling, one where we as players can feel directly involved. There is no other game I can think of that made me feel quite so involved as Final Fantasy IX did. It is really is a work of art.