Thursday, September 11, 2008

Final Fantasy IX

As with the other games in the series, Final Fantasy IX has the ability to grab your attention from the time you fire it up until the last boss is put down. Previous entries into the game's lineage took a more dramatic, cinematic route to do what a role-playing game does best--tell a story. That style led to some complaints from headstrong fans and role-playing gamers alike. In response to this, while not sacrificing what new technology they've built into the series, SquareSoft has backtracked a bit. To put it simply, they've gone back to their roots while forging ahead.

When we last left the Final Fantasy characters, Princess Garnet was starting to break out of her shell and put to rest the notion that she was a snob. The kidnapping attempt by Zidane, oddly enough, started a few new friendships. Story elements continuously roll on, never leaving you to wonder for too long. Vivi, you may remember, started out as a Black Mage, and the Queen of Alexandria's story was left far from finished as well.

But even players with no experience in this series can pick this up as a new game. Final Fantasy IX's story follows a group trying to stop Brahne, the evil Queen of Alexandria, in her quest to rule the world. Zidane, a skilled thief, teams with a young mage, a royal knight, and a princess, who all soon discover that the queen's threats are fronting an even more sinister plot involving a powerful sorcerer named Kuja. It's your job to control the eight playable characters--each of whom begin the game with one weapon, one piece of armor, and one special power--and to uncover Kuja's motives before he carries out his deadly plan.

The game's opening sequence sets the stage for what's to follow and, as we've come to expect from the CG wizards at SquareSoft, what is an utterly amazing visual scene. Long-time fans should go ga-ga over SquareSoft's decision to return to the disproportional-character look of the past. While the change in the last game was interesting, realistic characters didn't quite work well within the established Final Fantasy universe. With the beloved wizards returned, the entire look is now much more medieval. Did anyone say "Chocobo"?

Like VII and VIII, Final Fantasy IX uses the ATB (Active Time Battle) system. Each character learns the abilities and commands appropriate to his or her job class. There are two major ability types: support and action. Action abilities use Magic Points (MP) and include commands such as Black Magic, Steal, White Magic, and Summon. Characters can go into trances after repeated physical attacks from enemies. When the trance gauge, located below the ATB gauge, reaches maximum capacity, the character goes into a trance, the commands change, and the character's attacks become more powerful. Up to four characters can be in the active party, but players can summon Guardian Forces, called Eidolons, into battle in Final Fantasy IX. Many of the Eidolons from Final Fantasy VIII return in this game, including Carbuncle, Bahamut, Odin, Ifrit, Shiva, and (naturally) Leviathan.

An Active Time Event (ATE) lets you see events that are happening elsewhere. For example, while you are controlling the main character in a town, you can view what the other characters are doing in another part of the same town. This function provides additional information and behind-the-scenes details about the story and the characters. You can only view ATEs when the ATE option appears onscreen, however.

The game's visual splendor touches even the most ordinary scenes, such as shadows in the street alleys and the mazes of cobblestones. Final Fantasy IX's color palette does a remarkable job in creating interest on every single object, location, and person.

SquareSoft claims their intention in Final Fantasy IX, as the last single-digit game in the series, was to assert the idea of progress. Not satisfied with looking back at previous accomplishments, they simply explain that this is just the beginning. But to that end, this will truly be the final Fantasy on the PlayStation as the series heads to greener pastures of the next-generation consoles.

With its awesome graphics, a good story, and random battles that reveal curious bits about each character, Final Fantasy IX is an epic adventure that'll have long-time fans of the acclaimed series beaming with pride and joy. As for everyone else who has yet to experience the Fantasy, now is the time!

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