I’ve always been a huge Final Fantasy Fan. In the days when I had no pocket money, (the 1980’s) I used to gawk at the images and reviews in games mags, wishing that I could afford to play the games. Then, at Uni, I clubbed together with a couple of other lads to buy a Play Station and one of the games that I bought for it was Final Fantasy 7. It was one of the best gaming decisions of my life.
I was blown away, not just by the graphics, but the gameplay and the story as well… no surprises there. Although Final Fantasy isn’t every gamer’s cup o’ chai, FF7 remains one of the series’ most idolised games and, I think, with good reason. I’ve played all of the later games bar FF11, which was released when I didn’t fancy online gaming and the subscription charges that can come with it.
More recently, I loved FF13 (I know, I know, but wait for it…) It was a great game, but it had serious problems. The most important were, I think, the lack of ability to really explore and the fact that the game only moved slightly off the rails of a predetermined corridor after about 20 hours of gameplay. A lot of people said, “It’s great, but you have to play it for that long until it get’s good.” I think that’s only partially true, the game has a lot going for it and a great battle system, but when anyone’s giving that advice to perspective players, that’s a serious problem. It’s also a more mainstream game, a kind of Final Fantasy Made Easy, but I digress.
On to Final Fantasy 9.
The week before last, I decided to give myself an early birthday present, and I bought FF9 from the Play Station Store, and I’ve had a fantastic time getting to know the game once more. From the cute, low-polygon characters to the beautiful pre-drawn sets, the fantastic soundtrack and the great battle system; this game took me back to a time when FF games were fun to play. The story, with its semi-medieval setting, has all the usual great components: thieves, kidnap, a Queen being manipulated into invading other countries, a princess trying to save the world and her mother’s mind and, that old favourite, a main lead with a big monkey-tail.
The battle system is enjoyable, even though some people would say that turn-based battles are a thing of the past. Levelling isn’t a chore, unlike FF12 and 14 where it simply took too long, this game lets you do it easily and earn new abilities at the same time. FF12 was annoying like that, the progression to better magics just seemed too arbitrary and too much to do with what the developers told you that you could do. The towns are charming and, unlike FF13, you can explore and talk to the characters – or challenge them to a game of cards.
The other mini-games, such as frog-catching, are a fun aside and, unlike FF12 and 13 in particular, you don’t get to the point where you want to quit the cut-scenes just to be able to play the game yourself, let alone fight. The balance is great and the game is absorbing. Effort has gone into creating a whole world and an engaging story, with characters that aren’t just whiny or crying because they’ve got super powers… please, no more Spider Man movie-like “boo-hoo I’m a superhero” moments, or characters forever whining “why me?”
This game doesn’t do that, it tells a great story, the kind of adventure you liked to watch or read as a kid – something that was missing from the later games, when the stories just weren’t deep or gripping enough. Best of all, the game has the traditional FF end of battle fanfare that will quickly be transferred to my phone as my new-message alert.
This brings me onto the soundtrack, which is far better than I thought it would be. The in-game music is great, but somewhat of a lower quality than I’d like. Listening to it now, whilst typing, is wonderful. It’s relaxing, dramatic… and parts of it are going on to the playlist that I listen to whilst writing action sequences.
If you fancy some retro gaming that has plenty of charm, and if you love RPGs, I can heartily recommend you either revisit FF9 or play it for the first time. It’s on the Playstation Store for the PS3, but you can also pick it up through places like eBay if you’ve still got a PS1 hanging around in your cupboard. Go on, dust it off and immerse yourself in FF9.
You’ll have a great time.