Final Fantasy IX

Guess which one’s the black mage?

I know, I know.  This is cheating, since I’ve technically played this one before (even got pretty far in it, if I remember correctly).  But y’know what?  It was a long-ass time ago, and I’ve probably forgotten more about this game than I remember.  The mechanics are still in my brain (mostly?), but characters and story are just vague washes of color.  So we’re starting from scratch.  That is, Ed and I are.

I remember the first time I played FF9, I couldn’t get into it.  Something about the characters just didn’t click with me.  There wasn’t anyone that I particularly related to, which was very important to me as a 16-year-old, and I just never got very far before relegating it’s save file to my ‘Rarely Played’ memory card.  Another attempt to pick it up several years later was aborted by my Playstation, which had lived a hard life before I gave it a good home.  Alas, sometimes it takes more than TLC to fix up years of systematic abuse.

Enter the last week, when Ed and I decided to start moving backwards in the Final Fantasy canon, and picked this game up.  Suddenly, I love it.  I’m not sure how much of that is nostalgia, how much of it is my retro-geek-ness, and how much of it is just awesome, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I seriously misjudged this gem the first time I played it.

It’s a Final Fantasy game.  I suppose it could be summed up in those words, but despite the excellent karma and fond memories that the series/brand evokes, it doesn’t quite measure the scope or intensity of any individual game of the series.  FF9 is set in Gaia, which, like every game before it, has nothing to do with any game before it.  It includes a diverse cast of characters, bringing back the Class system of previous games with a vengeance.  Prior to this, we’ve beaten FFX, X-2, and XII International, and that makes this seemingly restrictive class system easier to bear (by virtue of being used to dealing with the ups and downs of having set jobs for each character).  Coming out of FFVII and VIII though, it really felt crippling, and I remember being consistently frustrated with Vivi and Garnet and their complete inability to do any damage with physical attacks.

But that was then, and this is now.  Strategy runs at the forefront of battle, and utilizing everyone’s strengths isn’t something I gave a lot of thought to when I was 16.  The graphics are still great (both “for it’s time” and as a general statement), the music is excellent (I miss Uematsu!!), the story is well thought-out, and the characters are three-dimensional.  Granted, it’s still early a little early in the game to be singing it’s praises, but first impressions are important, and I’m really looking forward to plugging through the rest of this incredible game.