Seemingly every other older Final Fantasy game has been re-released in recent years as a remastered edition, or in the case of Final Fantasy VII an entire from-scratch remake. Most, except 2000 PlayStation title Final Fantasy IX. After six years of steampunk stories — from the drama of Final Fantasy VI to the technology-versus-nature tale of VII to the time-travel craziness of Final Fantasy VIII — Square Enix, then Squaresoft, went back to its high fantasy roots for Final Fantasy IX. IX was a callback to the Final Fantasy franchise’s beginnings, in which a group of magic-wielding and impossibly unique people (and creatures) join forces to save a fantasy world under threat of destruction.
After the polygonal bodies of VII and the more-realistically-proportioned look of VIII, Final Fantasy IX‘s deformed-chibi style of character design was divisive for a lot of people. It looked cartoony, but the story it told was far from a child’s fairytale. A story of pain, loss, self-discovery, and sacrifice, Final Fantasy IX introduced a cast that questioned the nature of their reality and their purpose for living — a deep cut for a game that looked so fanciful.
Now, 17 years after its initial release, Square Enix has remastered Final Fantasy IX for the PlayStation 4, and to use the cliché, it looks better than ever. Visually, the remastered game got a fresh sheen of graphical updates. The remaster smoothed out pixels and softened edges on character models so we can make out every detail on their face, clothing, and weapons. However, some of the backgrounds are still a little blurry and look like they have been stretched to fit the screen, which can be a disappointing view as scenes that look out over a wide swath of scenery look smudged.
Now that the remaster has made several small tweaks to how the game functions, this version of IX is the perfect gateway into Japanese role-playing games for people who have so far been unable to get into the grind.
Making the Daily Grind Work
It can take a while to level-grind in these older JRPGs, and for those without the patience who just want to experience the story, there are a ton of tools that change the game. You can disable random encounters, which will prevent you from leveling much but will also allow you to traverse the overworld without being stopped every few seconds to battle. In combat, you can turn on super speed, which makes the turn-based battles go faster. Or, you can tweak your party so you always deal high damage and your health points, special points, and Trance gauge (your special attack, basically) are always full and ready to go — essentially making yourself invincible.
All of this you can turn on and off at will, so if you want to fast forward through more tedious parts of the game, you can. Additionally, you can max out your Gil (money), level boost to 99, or turn on permanent ability boosters. These choices might scandalize some JRPG purists, but for someone inexperienced with the genre or Final Fantasy series, these are the perfect tools to take the burden of expectation out of the experience — that is, you don’t have to be “good at it” to get through it.
There are a few technical hiccups to the remaster. Background music starts over when battles finish, and the video ratio is still 4:3, but this isn’t enough to affect the experience. They even scrubbed the gorgeous ahead-of-their-time CGI cutscenes a little, preserving their thrill. So if you’ve never played Final Fantasy IX or any other Final Fantasy game, this is the perfect iteration to start with.