[Some spoilers, but come on, the game came out fifteen years ago!]
I’ve really put this on the backburner, but I’m still slowly working through one of the most important series of my life. I’ve put a lot of time and love into these stories, and it’s quite a bit different revisiting them as an adult – not better or worse, just different.
I was never really invested Final Fantasy IX, not like the other ones anyway. It came out when I was in Grade 9, but I didn’t actually get around to it until the middle-to-end of Grade 12. Rather than camping out in my room playing PlayStation (a friend’s PlayStation, actually), I was out with friends and all that.
That being said, I remember that I still enjoyed the experience of playing. That’s not the same as just “enjoying the game,” though. There are some games that I enjoyed being inside than actually getting through the narrative – Dragon Quest VIII, Shadow of the Colossus, Super Mario Galaxy, etc.
The experience was different this time – not better or worse, just different. The Black Mage plot that dominates the first half of the game was more interesting and darker than I’d remembered. Vivi’s identity crisis felt more real too; in fact, that was the most interesting part of the game to me. I appreciated that Square changed gears from the angsty protagonists with the exuberant Zidane, but Vivi’s struggle for purpose and meaning was far more interesting than any of the other stories.
That being said, I was more aware of the writers’ efforts to give everyone a substantial story. Steiner’s betrayal by Queen Brahne and his need to do right, Vivi’s identity quest, Garnet/Dagger to find herself away from labels and expectations… There was real planning there.
For me, the story really falls off the rails once Garland gets into the picture. I appreciate the throwback (all of them in this game, actually), but the narrative really loses its focus. Two worlds and clones and souls and… ugh. Just too much. The game is at its best when the story is focused and, in our case, that’s the beginning of the game.
As much as I’m ragging on it, there are many great elements. The Ability system is really fun and is a dynamic way to buff up your characters. All of the characters fight in a radically different way, like an early FF game and I love that. I love the twists on the original classes too – put a racket on Dagger and she can actually do some damage, the Eiko/Dagger double summoner party is pretty great, extra magic on a Freya as a dragoon, Sword Magic between Steiner and Vivi… and the list goes on.
I also liked the soundtrack better this time around. I wasn’t crazy about the renaissance flare of the game’s aesthetic on my first playthrough, but I really liked it now. Even some of the smaller pieces that we only hear once stand on their own better than I remember, like “Border Village Dali”
I also appreciate how Uematsu builds thematically on character themes, which isn’t something that he always did. For example, “Steiner’s Theme” and “Steiner’s Stealth” use his thematic material, even though he’s not the main protagonist, or “Vivi’s Theme” and “Fleeting Life” for Vivi. Even all of the Freya/Burmecia thematic material shares the three-against-two ostinato – there’s just such care given to thematic material in the game. Strangely, “Zidane’s Theme” in the OST isn’t really one that I equate with him, but more with exciting situations. The narrative doesn’t do a great job of linking them together.
“Ambush Attack” (often with Black Waltzes; 4/4 + 5/4 never sounded so good!)
“Assault of the Silver Dragons” (really, only because it’s the FF8 sound library, which it very clearly and jarringly is)
“The Dark Messenger” (final boss theme, the fifth of Kuja’s thematic pieces in the score)
My cousin’s husband summed it up best when we were talking about this a few months back. He said “I enjoyed FFVIII more than I remember, and FFIX less” and I feel about the same. It was still a good experience, but I was quite done with it near the end. Definitely worth the playthrough, maybe not a second one, though.
(What now? Do I finally have to beat FFII? I just don’t want to…)