When people give their favorite Final Fantasy game, I usually hear I, VI, VII, or X. Occasionally others, but not really. Now, to be fair, I do fall into the VI-loving category. However, most of these people haven’t played Final Fantasy IX, and will tell you that they know next-to-nothing about it. While the game is certainly popular in its own right, comparatively to other games in the franchise, it is widely ignored for its more techno-savvy compatriots with less jarring art styles. But gamers ignoring Final Fantasy IX are ignoring a carefully crafted game with one of the most consistent themes in all of Final Fantasy. Most of the other games have extremely mixed messages, but to put it bluntly: Final Fantasy IX is a play. Seeing as how it opens and ends with a play, this shouldn’t be too hard for people to believe.
To be more specific, FFIX seems to be about people simply following the roles they’ve been given (much like actors, hence the play metaphor). Zidane is a womanizer who can’t give up his ways. Garnet can’t stop being the faithful daughter and princess, Steiner is sworn to his duty, Amarant won’t give up on vengeance and anger, etc. All the characters are stuck simply doing all they know how to do and refusing to break free. Except for Vivi, of course, but that’s because Vivi is really cool. In simply being himself, he slowly teaches the others how to not follow the predictable patterns life seems to have set for them. This metaphor is enacted through the plays that open and close the game. It’s easy to notice, but it’s a nice touch that enhances the game’s theme.
Following through FFIX’s plot is much like a normal Final Fantasy, filled with tons of diversions and typical RPG BS. However, FFIX seems much more simple than, say, FFVII. Explaining FFVII’s plot adequately requires you to be an expert (like me), but explaining FFIX is rather easy. Most of the game is spent running from the attacks of the people chasing after Garnet, and once she’s no longer being pursued, you spend time trying to defeat Kuja and prevent him from continuing to blow stuff up. You chase him to (spoilers), and that leads into the game’s final act where you must defeat him to save the world. While FFVII’s plot certainly is great in its own right, there’s something about the simplicity of FFIX that is appealing. This is probably because it was developed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the primary creator behind FFI through FFVI. Testuya Nomura gradually took more importance during the developments of VII and VIII, and took over almost completely during FFX. FFIX was Sakaguchi’s last outing without Nomura there, and is the only Playstation-era FF game that doesn’t have his involvement at all. It has a touch of the old world.
FFIX is also chock full of references to previous FF games, and it’s even suggested that it may have a direct relation to FFI through a certain villain who shares a name with an FFI villain, as well as the appearance of FFI’s four fiends. Numerous other games are referenced, and the game feels like a tribute to the series as a whole. It abandons the idea of reinventing the wheel like FFVII and VIII tried to do, and it simply gives you a fun JRPG romp.
However, a lot of people ignore FFIX. Whether it’s for the deformed art style, lack of sci-fi elements that were in previous games, the fact that it’s pocketed in between two games that have a lot more conversation about them on the internet…I’m not really sure. Somewhere along the line, people started to ignore FFIX in the modern day, and people seem to view it as the weird one. But FFIX is a thing of beauty, portraying a unique story with an excellent and consistent theme. It opens by giving you the simple story of a thief smuggling a princess out of her country, and evolves into a story of characters you love fighting for their right to exist and escape the stereotypes that they otherwise had chosen to be. Every character fights to have meaning in their life, and as much as people make fun of Kuja, he proves to be just as meaningful and sympathetic, and he’s far more interesting than Sephiroth or Ultimecia. The final act of the game has a few random moments that can seem out of place, but it’s still a solid ending, and it doesn’t spoil the journey. If you like this series or JRPGs in general and you’ve been ignoring FFIX for some reason, please, go to PSN. I’m pretty sure it’s there. Or, if you emulate stuff, you have that option. Just play it.