Though the cycle of life and death has been a concern and point of interest for humans since time began a-turning, none really know what happens after that final curtain is drawn. With that in mind, nobody can really say that a decades old plot to subsume an entire planet in order to facilitate the resuscitation of an older, more advanced planet is wrong. I mean, it probably is wrong, but is it really any crazier than the theories that so called scholars throw around? Yes. Of course. But those theories are usually well thought out and morose in their acceptance of life’s inescapable final destination, so let’s focus on the cuckoo-bananas-bonkers one instead.
Since jokes about the hypocrisy of Final existing in the title of a game series that has spanned into double digits, let’s skip past that particular well and get right to the good stuff. Final Fantasy IX is back and possibly better than ever. I say possibly because I never actually played it the first go ’round. So, expect a surprisingly fresh take on a story known to many. Truth be told, I knew that Zidane and Kuja existed, but something tells me their jaunt through Dissidia is a less-than-canon glimpse into their relationship and the overall vibe of IX. Though they definitely sold the flair that Kuja presents himself with. Nevertheless, I am getting way ahead of myself, on account of the long play plot that doesn’t even introduce the main villain until well into the heroes’ journey. Though I won’t delve too far into the inner workings of said plot, I definitely want to note that it is one that possesses a stronger beginning than end. With promise of kidnapping, thievery and general well-meant mayhem, the story slowly but surely pivots into a traditional Final Fantasy foray of Summons, Crystals and forces far beyond the ken of mortals. Somewhat expected, sure; but the story definitely trades away some of its charm in the process.
Let’s take the final boss for example. Is it Kuja, the one who is eventually revealed to be puppeteering whom we thought to be the true villain? Almost, but no. Instead, it’s some never-before-seen personification of extinction who only serves to further the game’s discussion of death. Sudden appearance aside, the game had already handled this theme much earlier on, in a much better way. With the character of Vivi existing as an innocent being just learning what it means to live and die, we were presented with a heart-rending figure who we all just wanted to be okay. His journey from charmingly unaware to maturely understanding was, at least in my eyes, the high point of the game and the most complete element put forth. Dwarfing this personal struggle with an unfathomable force of death just seems pointless. Maybe that was the point, maybe the game wanted to show that life and death are only poignant to those within its cycle…but it just didn’t come across that way. I mean, the sentiment did when Zidane said as much to Necron (the aforementioned force of extinction…if you couldn’t guess by the name “Necron”), but it rang a little hollow.
Speaking of hollow, what the hell happened to the rest of Zidane’s friends? And by that, I of course mean that their stories all fade away without any clear resolution and I am frustrated by that. Freya was introduced as a mysterious warrior, pining over her literally lost love…then he turned up…then he had amnesia…then he left. That’s it. After all of two sentences mourning the loss of what their relationship had been, Freya becomes thematically pointless for the rest of the game. Almost as irrelevant as Quina, the party member who frequently leaves the plot to get lunch. And that is not an exaggeration in the slightest. Amarant is another figure who drops in eventually, touting a hatred of teamwork and never really revealing why. Even if one were to chalk that up to a lack of screen time, that logic crumbles in the face of Steiner, a character who is around for a majority of the story. Torn between duty and personal morals, his problems all disappear when his warmongering queen is killed by the game’s “true” villain, leaving him with nothing to do…so nothing he does. Okay, he falls in love, but who doesn’t in this game? Amarant. Amarant doesn’t fall in love. Also Quina. I mean, unless food counts.
Look, I didn’t mean to just rant about this game, because I actually really enjoyed my time with it. It’s just that…those things I mentioned bothered me. Anyone who complains about the graphics in IX is a lunatic who doesn’t understand how time marches forward in technology and even the manner in which the story is presented can be attributed to a similar process. But the abandonment of plot threads simply to serve some late game nonsense? That’s a little bit harder to forgive. I mean, I never even mentioned Garland in my tirade and he’s arguably a bigger bad than Kuja. It’s just…who cares about Garland? He turns up out of nowhere and is revealed to be the puppeteer of the puppeteer who was already somebody who appeared out of nowhere. It’s just…why? The first villain we are introduced to is a power hungry ruler who wage war on, and utterly annihilates, two neighbouring nations. Also, she’s a main party member’s mother. And that’s not enough? If the game had just stopped trying to one up itself, it would’ve been a stronger experience. The escalation was just…distracting.
Okay, for real now, let’s talk about some positives: Cheats. I know it isn’t exactly a tradition function of IX, but boy did I love them. Between Infinite Gil, Instant Ability Mastery and Double Speed, there was never a moment where the doldrums of JRPGs took hold. There’s even an option tor turn random encounters on and off at will. At. Will. That is massive. Again, not part of the game per say, but who cares? This is a remake of a game that just managed to exist in this current century, most everyone who cared about it has already played it. This release is for fans who want another excuse to revisit a world they love and boneheads like me who never got around playing it. The complaints of a nineteen-year-old game were mitigated by the ability to transcend them. Seriously, being able to turn off encounters in those areas that require constant backtracking? Heaven. I didn’t even use cheats all of the time, because they are easy to turn on and off. Experience as you want. I’ve been saying it for years: Cheats are fun. Hey, other games, learn from this.
That all being said, I should probably mention the actual gameplay, even if only in passing. I had more fun with this game than I imagined I would. The simple fact that I learnt my way around Lindblum (one of the larger cities in the game) is a testament to that. With the low resolution backgrounds and a decided lack of signage, the doors designed to be opened and those designed for set dressing can be near identical. Still, that weapon shop saw my repeated patronage and I only got Zidane stuck on the graphics a few times…stupid camera angles. The improved graphics on important character models also definitely helped, if interactable elements standing out like a beacon don’t ruin your immersion. On the topic of improvements, the auto-save feature is definitely beneficial, especially considering how the game froze up on me twice. I wouldn’t consider such too noteworthy, as it only happened when playing after having the console in Sleep Mode overnight; however, some people might take solace in the fact that it isn’t only happening to them. Also, the comfort of knowing you don’t have to replay large sections of the game should it happen. Double also, cheats will always help you kick the crap out of Zorn and Thorn a second time (if your game should happen to freeze in the same place as mine), which is near equal parts frustrating and cathartic.
Look, I apologise if you came here looking for an in-depth review of how the Switch version of Final Fantasy IX performs. Although, if you’ve made it this far and are still hopeful…you are a very optimistic person and I envy your world of half-full glasses. Parsing down my ludicrous amount of words leaves us with these simple facts: The details of the story leave something to be desired, cheats are fun and Vivi is awesome. Far from the most comprehensive breakdown, but true to my experience nonetheless. Perhaps your journey through Gaia will be different. Perhaps you will learn far more than I and see my tirade as the ravings of a madman who simply hit Optimise and never bothered to tailor equipment to each character as necessary. Perhaps you will even think of a third salient point to put in place of this filler sentence, which simply exists to abide the cosmic Rule of Three. May the blue light of Gaia guide you and may you ever be afeared of red’s glow…because that colour means a planet is about to eat the planet you’re on. Such is the will of the universe!