Final Fantasy IX (Switch eShop) Review
For the longest time, I had to admire Final Fantasy IX from afar. The review for it in the Hyper magazine for some reason really stuck with me. I wanted to play the game, but I didn’t even have the console so I waited. Then came along the PS Vita where I could download PS One classics, but finally getting to play FFIX on that screen was less than ideal. Over time, Final Fantasy games are becoming more commonplace across the consoles, finally finding its way to the Switch. But after 19 years of waiting, can this game live up to expectations?
The story has Zidane, a monkey-tailed member of a theatre group tasked with kidnapping Princess Garnet from a neighbouring kingdom. A princess that so happens to want to be kidnapped, or at least escape from the Kingdom and the Queen. Meanwhile Vivi is a young Black Mage that gets caught up in the mess, along with Steiner the Knight who serves as Garnet’s bodyguard determined to take the princess back home. It isn’t long before the unlikely band of misfits are exploring the larger world and finding out something is wrong with the Kingdom. As the journey progresses the stakes only get higher and your roster of characters grows as you adventure across the world.
The usual Final Fantasy storytelling is there, falling back on some familiar tropes even back then. But experiencing it all properly for the first time now, the story is still enjoyable in 2019. The fantasy steampunk setting of FF IX was a notable change from the more serious-looking FF VII and VIII. The look of the game and the world it takes place in still holds up. Honestly, I’d love to see what they could do with remastering FF IX. What also helps the story is that the characters are more likeable than not.
If you’ve played the older Final Fantasy games you’ll have some familiarity with the Active Time Battle system, it’s the combat system you’ll find here too. Although there are other mechanics, Trance is a state characters will enter once they’ve taken enough damage. It changes the appearance of the user and enable them to use more powerful abilities. It was neat when it happened, but it never felt like I got to use it much. FF IX also has the ability system, which allows you to give your characters extra abilities through wearing and using equipment. Build up enough ability points and you no longer need the item to give you that ability. Back then it was a fresh mechanic. Another way that Square gave a bit more personality to the characters was through their moves. Each character has a move that was for their class, for example Zidane can steal from enemies and Vivi uses dark magic. It also helps that each character has something they could add to a fight, not just a bunch of interchangeable warriors.
The Switch port of FF IX seems to be based on the mobile port. This is most noticeable when you’re given the option to change characters names. There’s some other minor issues, such as a sound bug with the overworld. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but prepare to hear the beginning of the music to the overworld a lot. One thing that I was surprised that hasn’t been fixed was the load time for random or in fact any encounters. For a game this old that has had other changes made to it, including HD character models, it seems weird that there was nothing done to improve those loads. As mentioned another upgrade in the ports has been HD visuals, but only for the character models. They look pretty good too, the character designs are pretty varied and a fresh lick of paint does them justice. However, Only doing this for the characters creates a new issue – how it makes everything else look. The backgrounds and environments retain their lovely art style, but there is no hiding how pixelated and blurry they can get compared to the HD elements. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, the amount of work it would’ve taken to clean up would’ve ensured we didn’t get the game at all. Over time you get used to the difference between the sharp and the old pre-rendered visuals, to the point it’s a very minor gripe at best. The cutscenes do look nicer than they originally were on the PS One. While they are a far cry from current CGI, they look surprisingly great for a game from 2000. To be fair, Square were top of the game with CGI.
Another cool addition to Final Fantasy IX are Active Time Events. These are short scenes that show you what other characters are doing at the time. They seem similar to the ‘Tales of’ skits, only here it’s usually showing other characters away from your current party. It is a nice touch, showing that some story threads aren’t forgotten. There are also times where it plays more of a role, and it’s a shame they didn’t become a recurring feature in the series.
JRPGs have a long history of being made up of 60+ hour games, and Final Fantasy games are no slouch in this area. Without the in game booster options, you will be doing a lot of level grinding. Fortunately, we’re given the option to play with boosters that effectively work as cheat codes you can easily toggle on and off. The boosters include instant mastery of weapons, maximum Gil, and 2X speed. You’ll be warned that turning on the boosters from the game menu that you can’t turn them off. If it was on a console where it would also impact trophies/achievements, it would be less enticing. But on the Switch there’s still no achievements, so it doesn’t really matter. There’s nothing in game that will shame you for being a Boost user. There are some other small quality of life changes, such as a little icon that shows if a character will play Tetra Master with you. In the past, you had to walk up to every character and take a chance they might want to play a game. Not any more! Although this addition will only be handy if you enjoy Tetra Master, of which I never really clicked with, but handy to have all the same.
While I’m all for playing a game as intended, I am also very much for options that help make an RPG like this more time friendly. Even when using one or two boosts on and off, the game still takes well over 30 hours (40+ without the speed boost). Not including all the potential time playing Tetra Master or other side quests. I sunk way more time into the Chocobo Hot and Cold than I care to admit to
Final Fantasy IX is not the more serious-looking futuristic Final Fantasy like the two games before it. Instead, it is a lovely fantasy world which can be just as serious and deep, and more importantly, enjoyable. The addition of ‘boosters’ help make the game playable for those who don’t want to endlessly grind for experience and just want to enjoy the journey. This port isn’t without its problems, fortunately outside of the annoying load times into battle the rest are minor issues. For Final Fantasy fans, the port does more right than it does wrong. If you haven’t played FF IX yet, love a good turn based RPG and don’t mind older games, then there is no better place to play it than on the Switch.
- HD character models
- A good Final Fantasy story
- ‘Boosters’ alleviate the old school grind
- Battles take too long to load
- Everything not given the HD treatment don’t look as good