When SquareSoft (before they were Square Enix) had just finished Final Fantasy VIII it was 1999, and it was now time to plan the next three games in the long running RPG franchise. A large marketing campaign was launched as IX, X and XI were all revealed to the public at the same time with a core promise to give fans three vastly different experiences: one as an intentional throwback to the roots of the series, one as a natural evolution of the JRPG, and one as the first massively multiplayer online Final Fantasy experience.
Final Fantasy IX, directed by Ito – who previously had directed Final Fantasy VI – was released on the PlayStation in July 7, 2000, just over 15 years ago. And for those 15 years, the game never saw any re-release, outside of its re-release as a PS One Classics title to the PlayStation Store in 2010. And now, in 2016, it will also come to Android, iOS and Steam. This is huge news.
Final Fantasy IX has largely been missed by many fans in the series. That’s a sad thing for the game which has the greatest critical reception in the series, the highest rating of 94/100 on Metacritic. As the last single digit installment, Final Fantasy IX was released as a throwback to the games of old and feeling that fans would get tired of futuristic settings after three in a row (Final Fantasy VII, VIII and The Spirits Within), Final Fantasy IX gave us an epic medieval setting as Square really showed off their world building and put us in control of iconic characters such as Zidane Tribal, Vivi Ornitier and Garnet Til Alexandros XVII.
This port is a huge deal and the game is an absolute must for everyone. Here are just a few of the reasons to be excited for this port:
If you haven’t played it already, now is the perfect time
As a throwback game, Final Fantasy IX combines everything that everyone loves about the series and takes it to what many consider to be perfection. This is a game with incredible lore and world building better than anything that had been seen in the franchise before, gave us an amazing cast of characters that gel so well together and are so likeable, coupled with what is one of composer Uematsu’s finest soundtracks in the series. A series filled to the brim with fine soundtracks, so good that it won a place in the Classic FM Hall of Fame. The gameplay is also solid, with a character growth system that lies somewhere in between Final Fantasy IV and VI, and the classic Active Time Battle pseudo-turn based system as good as it’s always been.
If you haven’t played a Final Fantasy game before, this one is perfect to start with and will introduce you to everything you’ll need to know and come to love with in the series. If you have played a Final Fantasy game before but not IX, you no longer need to buy a PlayStation console, or use an emulator.
Added gameplay boosts make things easier than before
Great news if you’ve not already played the game yet: as announced through Square’s Final Fantasy Portal App, the game will come with achievements, a “high speed mode”, auto-save and many other “game boosts”. These features are great for a number of reasons.
Achievements will give many people a thing to work for – as we had several people ploughing at the Final Fantasy VII port on PS4 and earning every achievement within the first day of the release. Anyone who’s played Final Fantasy IX knows about the long pauses in between selecting an ability and it being cast (more on that later), so the high speed mode – which will likely be very similar to the high speed mode found in the VII port on PS4 – will be great news to people. Meanwhile, anyone who’s played any JRPG of the era will also know the pains of grinding for hours earning several levels only to lose it because you died to boss you didn’t expect, and so even if auto-save is just a passing feature of any game nowadays it is a blessing for anyone of the era.
Finally, as for the “game boosts” they refer to, these will likely be ones that max stats, similar to those seen in the port on PS4 that make the game a breeze for anyone who doesn’t want to bother spending hours maxing all their 9999 damage abilities to defeat Ozma – the game’s superboss that is much harder than the final boss – and just wants to experience the epic story, soundtrack and setting this game has to offer.
The port graphics are gorgeous
For a PSOne game, IX’s graphics were always gorgeous. Released at the very end of the PlayStation’s life, with a beautiful art style and amazing FMV cut scenes, IX always looked great, but with this port, it’s been announced to have HD resolution, and as we can see from the trailer it looks much better. Gone are the jagged edges of old, since we’re no longer restricted by the PlayStation hardware. Our smartphones, tablets and desktop computers can render all of the models just like how they were made with a much higher resolution than they could be rendered in before. Not only is the gameplay footage improved, the pre-rendered FMVs are given much better visuals with a higher resolution. A game that looked amazing for its time may now look amazing today.
Expect the slowness to be gone
Anyone who did play Final Fantasy IX will know how infamous the slowness in between battles was. With a huge delay before a battle begins and long wait times for abilities to actually be used, it made the game play very slowly. So slow in fact that one of its side quests was rendered almost impossible in the PAL region: in order to obtain the Excalibur II, the strongest weapon in the game, the player must reach Memoria (the final dungeon) without going over 12 hours of playtime, but the slowness and 50/60Hz conflict in the PAL release made this task undoable for years.
Well, we know that there’s a “high speed mode” already, but this sounds more similar to the battle speed boost in the Final Fantasy VII port on PS4 (not the Remake). And with the huge technological upgrade in the port, we can expect things to be sped up much faster – remember that the iOS and Android release of Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions also made a similar upgrade, dropping the bug which caused a delay after abilities were cast that plagued the PSP release. If things can be sped up for the port, the Excalibur II sidequest seems (slightly) more reasonable without using the speed boost. And that’s good, because there’ll be an achievement for getting that Excalibur II, no doubt. Now, if only they’ll let us skip the 35 minutes of FMVs…
We can now play it and take it anywhere
Like the other releases, the cloud will come to Final Fantasy IX. No, not Cloud Strife from VII, cloud saving. In all of their releases on Steam, Android and iOS, Square Enix have added the ability to save your game file to the cloud, and pick it up from anywhere. This means you can spend those hours on your phone at work grinding for Quina’s Blu Mag spells, and then pick up your tablet once you’re home to go back to the main story, with any AP and gil you earned from grinding, still intact. How awesome is it to know you can now enjoy playing Hot and Cold simply to pass the time during your lunch break – and not sit through it frustrated because you desperately need to do it to unlock Ozma?
It’s a given that we’ll get this feature, but based on how it’s been implemented in the past it’ll likely use the cloud saving provided by the platform rather than its own system – so if you’re on iPhone, it’ll use iCloud, or on Android, it’ll use Google Play Game’s cloud saves, or on Steam, Steam Cloud. This sadly will mean that you can’t share your save on your phone and tablet with your save on your desktop and laptop computer, and that your Android phone won’t share a save with your iPad. But then again, Final Fantasy VII on Steam used Square’s proprietary cloud saving (it was re-released on PC before it was released on Steam), so who knows?
Controlling it will be great, no matter how you choose
With a touch interface, expect controlling this game to be very easy. Being able to touch to select the command you want to input is much easier than having to scroll through the menus to select the command you want – and if you don’t have Wait on, in Final Fantasy, that’s plenty of time an enemy could use to deal 1,563 damage to you and kill you. Touch input is just perfect for command-based RPGs such as these and a great way to play.
But even then, you can still play it with a controller. If you’re on Steam, you can use a Steam Controller, or any controller input with a PC, to play it just like it could be played with a DualShock on PSOne. On any Android or iOS device, you can also find plenty of bluetooth controllers to play the game with.
Final Fantasy IX arrives on these platforms at an unspecified date in the future, so we could be looking at any time in the future – though last time they announced Final Fantasy VI on Android and iOS, it only came out a few months later. Now is the perfect time for anyone and everyone to experience this RPG classic, it’s now available on every platform anyone could want it on – and may well receive a PS4 port like VII just got. Between this port, Final Fantasy XV (you promised us this year, make it happen, Square!) and the Final Fantasy VII Remake, 2016 is looking like an amazing year for any Final Fantasy fan – and an amazing year to become one.