A slightly updated version of Final Fantasy IX was just released for the PlayStation 4 in November, and I went ahead and forked over $20 to download it. I’ve spent the past month playing it, and I have to admit that it’s been somewhat painful. It’s distressing to say this, especially since the game was remarkably beautiful for its time, but it has not aged well. The blurred pixelation of the environments is intense on my widescreen HD television, and this loss of graphic quality feels even more extreme since it’s contrasted against the sharpened character models. So much of what makes FFIX charming is how its art contributes to a sense of exploring a beautiful and fully realized world, and the super blurry backgrounds aren’t ugly, exactly, but they don’t do the game any favors. Also, I know it’s sacrilegious to say this, but I’ve grown so used to ambient and environmental sound design that Nobuo Uematsu’s score of catchy one-minute song loops has been kind of annoying me.
In the PS4 version of the game, there are some neat shortcuts built right into the options menu, such as the option to max out your party’s levels and money whenever you’d like. I don’t think this makes the game any more enjoyable to play, however, especially since it wasn’t grind-oriented to begin with. Very early on I decided to go ahead and use the “cheat” settings to max out my party’s experience and skill points, and though I regret nothing I do think it takes something away from the experience of the game not to be involved in the monitoring of your characters’ growth and resources.
Thankfully, the one thing that hasn’t changed about Final Fantasy IX is the joy of experiencing its marvelous story.
In Final Fantasy X, there’s a scene late in the game when Seymour ambushes the party on Mount Gagazet and says that he just killed all of the Ronso, a race of blue-furred people who’ve made their home at the base of the mountain. Aside from the frustration of the difficult boss fight that follows this pronouncement, it doesn’t really carry any emotional weight, mainly because Kimahri, the Ronso member of your party, doesn’t react to this information in any way. Moreover, there’s no extra scene or sense of mourning that occurs if your party returns to the Ronso village, which feels like a strange narrative oversight.
There aren’t many holes like this in FFIX, which feels satisfyingly complete on its own. Aside from the obvious instances of improbable fantasy hijinks, there aren’t that many gaps in the story, and various characters are paired in new and interesting ways throughout the game in ways that give the player a more well-rounded view of their personalities. The optional ATE (“active time event”) cut scenes are also fantastic in the way that they offer glimpses of the perspectives of characters other than those currently in your main party. I’ve played FFIX several times since it was first released in 2000; but, since I started reading and writing about video games seriously from an academic perspective, I’ve found that I’ve come to genuinely appreciate just how well-crafted it is. The graphics and gameplay may have aged, but the story, characters, and interactive set-piece scenarios are still as fantastic as ever.
When it comes to my relatively diminished enjoyment of the game, then, I think it may be possible that I’m still burned out from having spent so much time playing (and teaching) Final Fantasy X earlier this year. I still love FFIX, but I’m not entirely certain I feel the need to keep playing the game all the way until the end. After all, I still haven’t gotten past the second chapter in Final Fantasy XV, and it feels like something of a waste to keep returning to the same games that I’ve been playing for the past fifteen years.
( Header image from Alice Kaninchenbau on Tumblr )