If Final Fantasies VII and VIII were bold steps forward for the series, Final Fantasy IX was a nostalgic look back.
Everything in the game is designed to call back to the roots of the series. Eschewing the steampunk aesthetic of the previous few games, Final Fantasy IX returns to a medieval high fantasy setting. The game gives each character a distinct combat role, something they hadn’t done since the fourth game in the series. This initially feels constricting, but these roles play significantly into the personalities of the characters, and forces the player to consider which ones might be best for any given circumstance.
And this is a very character-driven game. Honestly, having originally played Final Fantasy IX back in 2000, I didn’t remember much of the plot before looking it up again while writing this piece. What I do remember are all of the characters, both major and minor. Every person in this story was designed uniquely, and given understandable motivations. The main villain feels like all the best parts of previous villains in the series, without feeling like a rehash of any of them.
The game came out shortly before the PlayStation 2 did, and as one of the last big releases for the original PlayStation, it’s also one of the best looking. The refinements made with Final Fantasy VIII were retained and improved upon, and the more cartoony art style has aged much better compared to the more realistic tone of the previous games on the system.
Final Fantasy IX was recently re-released for the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, and is also available on the Playstation 4 and smartphones.