Editorial: A Fruit Explained: Final Fantasy IX

Seriously. I expect to be let down, but it hasn't happened yet.

A rare game that impresses me more every time I play it.

It somehow happened, dear LusiRatchels. For once in my Lusipurr.com career, I seem to have fulfilled a promise. All it took was a promise so easy to follow through on that only I am pleased to see it come to fruition. Anyway, on to the fruity explanation. Fruit.

Final Fantasy IX is the game most hindered by age in this series. And by “this series”, I mean this series of editorials and not the Final Fantasy series. IX has a notoriously slow battle system – even for its time – and that alone is enough to deter some gamers. However, I also feel that the era when it was made contributes to its greatness as well. I touched on this point when I argued that a remake of Final Fantasy VII is a bad idea, but essentially I feel like part of what makes Final Fantasy great is the technology it was built for.

I think the character work is extremely strong in IX – more on that later – but I also feel that the game could never be taken seriously if it were voice-acted. I like the game’s script, but when I read it as if it were meant to be spoken out loud, I cannot help but cringe. It is the third Final Fantasy game for Sony’s original PlayStation system and the developer’s comfort shows. The game’s visuals – like in VII – are highly stylized to give a timeless effect and the pre-rendered backgrounds are the most immersive and creative in the series. In fact, I would argue that the world of Final Fantasy IX is the most well-realized as a whole of any of the other games leading up to that point.

Very much like Final Fantasy VI in that sense.

The huge cast helps the depth of the world as well.

Final Fantasy VIII just feels like one big homogeneous city-state and Final Fantasy VII has a bunch of cool locations that do not feel cohesive as an entire world. There is not a sense that the characters are residents of more than just their specific location. Final Fantasy IX connects the world by necessity of the plot. Queen Brahne is out to destroy every kingdom in sight, so the game makes sure to give distinct cultures as well as giving a sense of how they react to and interact with each other.

This ties into another one of the game’s successes: its character-driven story. The game has such – well-earned – faith in its characters that it drops reliance on plot twists and makes character motivation the driving force behind the events of the game. Of course there are still some surprises along the way, but the star of the tale is not the origin of Zidane’s tail. It is Vivi’s coming of age story, it is Dagger’s struggle with responsibility and pride, it is Steiner’s struggle with responsibility and pride, it is Zidane’s struggle with over-confidence and pride. Hm, I am sensing a bit of a pattern here. And it is not unintentional.

Final Fantasy IX may not make the same sort of singular statements that Flower or Shadow of the Colossus make, but it is still as strong with theme as it is with character. I love FF9 because it shows all sides of themes and characters. These are all flawed characters. Zidane is charismatic, eager, and optimistic, but he can also be superficial, flippant, and loathe to practice what he preaches. Dagger is thoughtful and strong-willed, but also prideful, stubborn, and naive. Steiner is loyal, diligent, and convicted, but he is as prideful, naive, and stubborn as Dagger, although in different ways. These strengths and weaknesses bounce off each other in realistic ways rarely seen in games. The friendships that develop are genuine and complex, and the bickering can be as petty as in real life.

The most well-realized world of its era.

Life. Personality. Cohesiveness.

This is the reason why I feel like Final Fantasy IX‘s mix of comedy and drama works. Because none of it is contrived. The characters just react like complex people would in these situations. Our heroes make as many stupid, prideful, and misguided decisions as they make valiant and noble ones. This is nothing to speak of Dagger and Zidane’s relationship which I have already written about at length. They are my favourite gaming couple because I cannot think of a more emotionally realistic one. Their initial interactions are completely hit-and-miss. Sometimes romantic and sometimes awkward, the two are just feeling each other out as different human beings. There is denial and pride and they actually build a relationship. It is not a story of two characters who are “meant to be together”. It is a story of two ultimately compatible people who do not give up on each other despite both character’s best efforts of self-sabotage.

Because of these dynamics, Final Fantasy IX strongly presents its themes of pride, love, loyalty, and companionship with respectable focus for such a sprawling game. It is a game so comfortable in the depth of its world that it lets the most minor characters have their own scene to open up the second disc. It is a game that understands tone and pacing and character and theme better than the vast majority of games I play.

Also, I love the ability and equipment system.

It also hosts my favourite gaming soundtrack of all time.

There is so much more I could say about the game (including aspects that I do not believe live up to the rest of the game’s high standards), but they would just be ultimately repeating the same points. What about you, LusiDaggers? Am I blinded by nostalgia, or are you too annoyed by the battle system to see if you agree with me? Sound off below in what is probably the last “A Fruit Explained” for a while.

7 Comments

  1. Mel
    Posted 2013.02.19 at 12:56 | Permalink

    I recently watched a charity speed run of this game, and even in that capacity where the intention was to simply get through the game as fast as possible (despite the slow battle system), I still got a feel for the charm this game exudes.

  2. Timothy 'Che the Fey' Streasick
    Posted 2013.02.19 at 23:11 | Permalink

    I can completely agree. Although I’d played Final Fantasy games previously, IX was the first Playstation game I’d ever bought, and I never regretted that decision. I think I connected with Vivi far more than I ever did with Squall, Cloud, or even Zidane. There’s just something about this little guy coming to grips with not only his abilities (and thus becoming more confident and growing), but his entire mortality that just, I dunno, shakes me.

  3. Julian 'SiliconNooB' Taylor
    Posted 2013.02.20 at 06:33 | Permalink

    I love FFIX editorials – it means three days of pretty sliders.

  4. Joanna 'Runaway' Price
    Posted 2013.02.21 at 16:50 | Permalink

    What? Ethos, why are you stopping with the fruit? Who doesn’t like fruit?

  5. Matt Dance
    Posted 2013.02.27 at 03:45 | Permalink

    The battle system wasn’t really slow, the introduction to each battle was far too long. It made grinding for all the item-abilities tedious. The item-abilities was my favorite part; firstly they were really good, and secondly they maintained an ulterior interest in playing apart from the storyline. I’m very rarely completist, but for some reason I wanted to and did get every ability for every character I could, except for sone equipment which I didn’t feel like crafting or whatever to get to.

    The story was very well paced, and the characters were interesting and diverse as well. I didn’t care for either as much as I did for VII, but that’s a personal and not objective choice. Overall, a person who hates IX hates joy.

    But what was the deal with the Chocobo search minigame… was that designed to take hoouurs from your life?

  6. Jahan 'The Legendary Zoltan' Honma
    Posted 2013.02.27 at 10:08 | Permalink

    I liked the characters in this one more than those in any other Final Fantasy. They are just bursting with charisma. I, too, loved the ability system in this game. Using the right equipment was a great way to eliminate grinding.

  7. Lusipurr
    Posted 2013.02.27 at 13:57 | Permalink

    @Matt: But the battles really are too slow. It’s not just the excessive loading; once you get in, each animation takes ages to display, and the game has a long pause between attacks, which adds even more padding. By the standards of the time this wasn’t too bad, but by today’s standards, it is interminable!