An irresistible urge to replay a classic Final Fantasy has led me to buy up the recent release of FFIX on PSN. Since I'm scheduled for a few extended trips this month, I figured it would be the perfect game to take along on the PSP. I invite you to tag along as I take the retrospective journey back to the world of Gaia.
Can you believe we're on the game's tenth year anniversary? Seems like only yesterday I played through the original Japanese import in July of 2000 for the first time, getting right up to around Pandemonium Castle before throwing in the towel. The North American release was but four months away after all, a refreshing change of pace compared to FFVII's and FFVIII's seven month time frame windows. It was a day-one purchase on November 13th, and I finished up the game proper on the eve of Thanksgiving. Good times.
THE OPENING SEQUENCE ~ ALEXANDRIA TOWN:
Starting the game again, I remembered how strange it was back then to see the initial new art direction. As we'd been exposed to Tetsuya Nomura's heavily drenched and heavily promoted art style for those past five years or so prior, Hideo Minaba's look was both at once distinct and refreshing. The super-deformed stature and big hands look would be one of the most visually defining aspects of Final Fantasy IX. It's also surprising to see such an anthropomorphic world: humans freely intermingle with rat kids, hippo townies, and upper-class bird women, and no one blinks an eye.
It's been a decade, but I still experienced a magnificently giddy thrill when the Final Fantasy theme boomed over the accompanying opening title in The Skies of Alexandria. With the game serving as a heavy throwback to the Final Fantasies of old, it was the pitch-perfect touch to the rest of the scenery's return of airships, castles, and crystals. We've not had the Final Fantasy/Prologue theme grace our presence as an introduction since Final Fantasy IV, have we?
Uematsu's music score for IX always stood as one of the brightest and best in the series for me, and getting to experience them in context once again is a joy. The thematic resonance alone is particularly rousing; I love how that brief strain of the Theme of The Tantalus and We Are Thieves! melody creeps into the Strategy Conference.
This dialogue exchange remains freaken hilarious to the day:
Zidane: That's when I kidnap Queen Brahne, right?
Baku: You bet! You're gonna kidnap the fat-ass, butt-ugly, Queen.... alright, quit joking around!
The game itself is drop dead gorgeous. Traversing the town of Alexandria as our little friend Vivi, I'm gobsmacked at how well the CG-rendered backdrops hold up today. Maybe it's because I'm playing the game on the PSP, so my mind is counterintuitively telling me that a portable game can't possibly look this good. They say there are limitations with using computer graphics as your main source of graphics; FFVII and FFVIII were restrictive due to their awesome looking but largely barren-to-explore landscapes. FFIX remedies this problem by littering every section of scenery, both outdoors and in, with well-hidden goodies and collectables. I'd forgotten how much fun it was to actually EXPLORE in these games again.
The animation on the character models themselves is pretty excellent too. From Baku's guffawing leg slap, Vivi's adorable pointy-hat adjusting, to Zidane's subtle butt scratch, these little mannerisms really go a long way toward breathing life into these characters.
I've stopped short with beginning the I Want To Be Your Crow..... I mean, "Canary" play. However, I managed a 489 skipping record on the jump rope mini game. Who says age kills the reflexes?