Final Fantasy IX Keeps the Edge
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The final, Final Fantasy on Playstation is a wonderful reminder of everything that Squareoholics hold dear about the seminal RPG series. Littered with references to previous installments, a gameplay system reminiscent of former FF games and an overall feeling of nostalgia, FF IX is a wonderful trip down memory lane in what will probably be a very different series from here on.
While the game, certainly isn't perfect, it is a tremendous addition to the FF ranks. Sporting some of the most likable and endearing characters the series has ever seen, this band of a charming thief (Zidane), a doubting princess (Garnett), an overbearing knight (Steiner) and a troubled black mage (Vivi) among others (I dare anyone to describe Quina), brings you on an epic 50+ hour adventure you won't soon forget.
Many fans complained after the science-fiction heavy Final fantasy VII and the uber-realistic Final Fantasy VIII, that the games weren't "fantasy" enough anymore. Well, Square took that criticism to heart as the series returns to its dragons and castles, princesses and knights, swords and sorcery roots. The game also interjects far more humor than the last two installments (except for the Cloud cross-dressing scene from FF VII).
The series also returns to its more graphical roots as well, leaving behind the proportional realism of FF VIII behind and returning to a more exaggerated, anime style of characters. While the characters themselves may no longer look exactly like real people, they sure wind up making you care about them as if they were.
And that's the greatest strength the game has to offer. You want these characters to make it, to succeed, to fall in love, to find themselves and their family and of course -- to save the world. Princess Garnett is one of the most well developed (and not physically) female protagonists in any RPG ever. Zidane (very reminiscent of Locke from FF VI) is top notch as the male lead, and rounding out the primary cast is Steiner and Vivi -- two of the funniest, poignant supporting characters ever.
Of course, good heroes need good villains, and while some of the supporting villains (Queen Brahme, Zorn and Thorn, the mysterious Garland) are worthwhile, the main villain, Kuja, is well, how can I put this delicately? He's gay. Really. No joke. He is a homosexual.
There I said it. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's not very intimidating in a world conquering sort of way, when the guy who's laying the smackdown on you looks like David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and he's telling you just before he attempts to kill you, "I love you all." The guy also has a penchant for putting his pinky up to his mouth like Austin Powers and it's just unnerving.
Of course there is nothing wrong with a homosexual super-villain, but it was sort of strange and unusual.
As for the story - it's typical RPG fare that doesn't stray too far from the reservation, although far too much of it was left for the final hour of the game. Also, the final battle entailed one of the most tired clichTs in RPG's, which I won't mention here as to spoil it for those who haven't played yet. I was very disheartened to see it rear its ugly head in this game and it's the primary reason why I knocked a half GiN Gem from the final score.
However, the disappointment in the final battle could not mask the absolute greatest ending in any RPG I have ever played. I said earlier the game isn't perfect, and that is true, but the ending is as perfect as anyone could ask for. It's a welcome reward for playing through the game and will move even the most jaded, cynical gamer (that means you Hargosh) to tears.
I commend Square for finishing the year on such a high note. The year 2000 was a very successful time for the company as they released such first-rate games as Vagrant Story, Chrono Cross and FF IX. With the advent of the PS2, X-Box and Gamecube, the next FF's will most likely be very different from what we've played before, which makes this reverence visit to the FF's before it, all the more worthwhile.
Ken Urben is one of our console reviewers. He looks for games that are exciting but with plots he can sink his teeth into. Ken can be contacted at : email@example.com.