Final Fantasy IX Review: One of the best RPG stories, one of the worst RPG battle systems

Final Fantasy IX Review: One of the best RPG stories, one of the worst RPG battle systems

Final Fantasy IX, a beloved installment in the iconic Final Fantasy series, stands as a testament to the enduring power of storytelling in video games. This RPG adventure, released during the twilight years of the PlayStation era, weaves a captivating narrative that has left a lasting impression on gamers worldwide. With a diverse cast of characters, a richly developed world, and a soundtrack composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, it's a title that has earned its place in the annals of gaming history. However, as we delve into this review, we'll explore the intricate facets of Final Fantasy IX, shedding light on its strengths and weaknesses to offer a comprehensive perspective on this classic title. From its sluggish battle system to its enchanting story, from the unforgettable characters to its myriad sidequests, we'll dissect the elements that make Final Fantasy IX a cherished gem in the RPG genre. So, join us on a journey through Gaia and beyond as we unravel the tapestry of Final Fantasy IX's enchanting world and determine whether it truly lives up to its legendary status.

Battle System - 3

I ranked this as my least favorite battle system of any RPG I've played, and while it has its strengths, its weaknesses outweigh its pros. First of all, every single animation is awfully slow. And none of it is skippable! The tide and tempo of battle are just horrendous. At least this makes Auto-Regen into a broken ability. I don't know. Also, the entering and exiting of battle are so slow that I never have any want or drive to actually battle. And when I do want to fight? The encounter rate is so low it's hard to grind. This game also suffers from uninteresting and overly easy enemies, and so many bosses are just random beasts with no plot relevance. There are some great bosses here, like Beatrix, Garland, and Black Waltz, but as a whole, there are tons of forgettable ones. Last but certainly least is the sluggish pace at which you learn action skills. Final Fantasy IX takes much too long to give you fun action skills that alter the tempo of battle. While there are some excellent abilities, there are too few and too slow for my taste. In summary, there are some good things about this battle system—it is cinematic, there are good bosses, and there are good skills. However, there are more bad moments than good here, so this only deserves a 3.

Story - 10

No Final Fantasy story has yet to top the story in this game. While the battle system's slowness was horrible, the slowness of the story gave the game plenty of breathing room and opportunity for an immense amount of world-building! It can breathe yet still captivate the player with its beautiful and intense moments. The world slowly yet fantastically develops across multiple unique continents—the Mist, Outer, Lost, and Forgotten contents—and worlds (Gaia, Terra, and Memoria). This story starts small-scale and homey with Vivi and Zidane but eventually expands into something grander. This game perfectly balances small-scale chapter-driven story beasts (especially with Active Time Events) and pivotal moments like the attack on Alexandria Castle or the moments in Terra, where the antagonist's plans come to fruition. Sure, the opening drags, and the final battle is mediocre... but that won't hold back the fact that this game deserves a perfect score for its story. Also, this game has one of the best epilogues in the series and of all time. So, as a whole, Final Fantasy IX's story is perfection.

Music - 8.5

This is Nobuo Uematsu's favorite soundtrack in the series and the one he is the most proud of. In his interview, I loved hearing him talk about his favorite parts of this soundtrack and how he wrote it to completely contrast the soundtracks of Final Fantasy VII and VIII. He also literally went to German castles to build a unique atmosphere for this chapter, which is some dedication there. But I digress. Now, for me? This isn't my favorite soundtrack in the Final Fantasy series, but it is at number six! Final Fantasy IX's track is special since it recaptures the fantasy aspect of the first few games and calls back to those entries with its motifs. Songs like Melodies of LIfe are amazing, encapsulating the beauty of the game and even breaking into mainstream culture in Japan. Pieces like Vamo'Alla Flamenco set a mood I haven't quite felt by any other game and is by far the best Chocobo theme in the franchise. There are so many impressive tracks here, and while the tracks in this game aren't as memorable as in some other Final Fantasy games, I genuinely don't think there is a single bad song in this soundtrack—it just pales in comparison to my top four favorite Final Fantasy soundtracks.

Art & Graphics - 8

I personally believe this game is much better artistically than the previous 2 PS1 entries, but the flaws in those games made their art so memorable for me. However, new versions of this game are gorgeous; the sprawling world is absolutely stunning, and the different towns and locales are perhaps the most in-depth in the series. This game looks so great as a whole, and the newer versions make it look so polished. However, this game doesn't have a unique or stunning art style, so an 8.5 is a good score.

Characters - 10

This is my third favorite cast of characters in the series, behind only Final Fantasy IV: The After Years and Final Fantasy XV (I know, I'm controversial). From Zidane, a carefree ladies' man who never needs a reason to help people, to Vivi, my second favorite character in the entire series due to his lovability, innocence, and tragedy; from Steiner, a hatable character who eventually becomes a lovable softie that we all love, to Garnet, a deep character full of personality and story. From Freya, an anthropomorphic rat with a beautiful story of refinding love, to Beatrix, a badass anti-hero infamous for her swordplay abilities. Each character is masterfully written, giving this score a 10, even though the other three playable characters are bland at best. This cast provides the story with a unique emotional core and is part of why the story in this game is incredible. Overall, the characters are some of the best in any RPG I've played and are a huge reason Final Fantasy IX is such a special and beloved game.

Customization System - 8

There was a moment in my life when this was my favorite RPG customization system of all time... which was highly questionable. Granted, I was around ten years old then, and its simplicity was very appealing, but I digress. Even though it's fallen much farther down the ranks for me, I still love this system. It loses 2 points, as I said earlier, because this is a slow-paced system with insufficient action abilities, but that doesn't mean it is terrible by any means. I love how you learn abilities from weapons and armor; it feels like such a natural way to incorporate skills into a game. While games like Tales of Vesperia did this system much better and heavily expanded on the ideas present here, this was still a great take on a simple skill-learning system. Also, I found powering up summons with gemstones and Add-Ons very fun (even if I have never cast them because the battle system was slow enough on its own). Overall, this system is straightforward and slow, but ultimately, it is an incredibly polished and memorable customization system.

Sidequests - 9.5

Wow. There are some horrendous sidequests in this game, like the jump rope sidequest and the Nero Family sidequests, but otherwise, there are so many good ones here that I have to give the sidequests in this game a 9.5. From the Stellazio coins hidden across the world to the Mognet trading sequence, where you gain more appreciation for the different characters of the world; to the Ragtime Mouse, a fun enemy encounter that allows for some fun quizzes that test your knowledge of the world, to the fun (albeit controversial) Tetra Master card game that is fun, even if doesn't reach the heights of Triple Triad; from the absurdly tricky, yet cool Excalibur II sidequest, to the engaging Friendly Monsters quest that gives cool rewards, to the hidden synthesis shop at Memoria; from frog-catching and dragon-hunting for powering up your characters to Chocobo Hot and Cold (my third favorite Final Fantasy sidequest after Triple Triad and Blitzball), which is leagues ahead of the mediocre chocobo breeding quest in Final Fantasy VII. In summary, this game does everything right with its sidequests, and outside of a few misses, this game has perfect sidequests.

Locations - 9

Final Fantasy IX Walkthrough: Returning to Alexandria -

Every location in this game exudes its unique charm, leaving an indelible impact on the player's memory. Final Fantasy IX is a masterpiece when it comes to world-building. While the game doesn't quite earn a perfect score due to personal preferences and the occasionally convoluted nature of towns like Lindblum and Alexandria, it offers a diverse array of unforgettable locales. Among my favorites are Terra, a haunting and enigmatic realm that resonates with an eerie beauty; Memoria, a place where the past and present collide in a mesmerizing spectacle; and the Black Mage Village, a poignant and atmospheric haven that tugs at the heartstrings. Yet, these are just the tip of the iceberg. From the bustling streets of Lindblum to the regal grandeur of Alexandria, each location has its own story to tell. Even amid some less remarkable dungeons in the second act, the overall tapestry of Final Fantasy IX's world remains a testament to the game's commitment to creating fantastic and memorable settings. In summary, the game's diverse and captivating locations testify to its world-building prowess and contribute significantly to its enduring appeal.

Quality of Life - 5

This game is slow in every way of the word. It takes its time, and while that is nice and charming in terms of the story, the slow pace of this game makes me have no interest in ever replaying it. Outside of slow pacing, the encounter rate is a little too low, something I can't say about any other RPG I've ever played. But overall, outside of its slow pacing and feel, I have nothing else to say about the quality of life in Final Fantasy IX. Let's move on to the verdict.

The Verdict

Fun Factor: 3
Overall Score: 73%
Letter Score: A

In conclusion, Final Fantasy IX is a game that shines brightest in its storytelling and character development. If you're the kind of gamer who treasures a rich narrative and unforgettable characters, this title should be right up your alley. However, when it comes to gameplay mechanics, it may not offer the same level of excitement, especially if you're seeking fast-paced combat and intricate skill management. It's a game that holds a special place in the hearts of JRPG enthusiasts and those who appreciate a well-crafted narrative, even though it may not be a perfect fit for everyone. So, in the grand mosaic of gaming experiences, Final Fantasy IX stands as a story-driven gem, awaiting the discerning player who values plot and character over gameplay mechanics.

Interested in Final Fantasy IX? I mean, you should be, this is one of the greatest Final Fantasy games! My recommended version is the Switch version of this game, as it is the most well-optimized version.

Final Fantasy IX (Switch)
Final Fantasy IX (PS1)

Primary Version: Final Fantasy IX (PS1)